Saturn and Jupiter are examples of gas giants—huge, uninhabitable planets
composed of gas rather than solid matter. Based on observations of these planets and models of their evolution, astronomers have long believed [pdf] that they form by guzzling gas from young stars. This week, courtesy of a telescope in the deserts of Chile, astronomers reported seeing the first direct evidence of gas giant formation.
Astronomers were observing a young star
called HD 142527, some 450 light years from Earth. Like most young stars, HD 142527 is surrounded by a disk of gas and dust—remnants of the star’s conception that continue to circle the star for millions of years . But there was something strange about this particular star’s disk. Astronomers observed a large gap in the gas and dust, which, as reported in Nature this week, they believe is caused by an up-and-coming gas giant.
A couple of new exoplanets are leaving researchers scratching their heads in confusion.
So bright, so vivid! So prismatic!
A planet called WASP-12b is the first planet that’s been found to have more carbon than oxygen in its atmosphere, unlike most planets in our solar system. In the paper published in Nature, researchers suggest that the gas giant probably has a carbon-based core. And all that carbon has set the researchers eyes a-sparkle with possibilities:
The researchers say their discovery supports the idea there may be carbon-rich, rocky planets whose terrains are made up of diamonds or graphite. “You might see land masses and mountains made up of diamonds,” [said] lead researcher Dr Nikku Madhusudhan. [BBC News]
The alien planet was discovered in 2009 and is about 870 light-years away. It’s about 1.4 times as massive as Jupiter and sits just 2 percent as far from its parent star as the Earth is from the sun. Sadly, we can’t go mining there, since the hypothetical diamonds are surrounded by the gas giant’s scorching atmosphere (4,200 degrees Fahrenheit) of hydrogen. Even if you got down to its rocky core, any diamonds would likely be mixed in with graphite and even liquid carbon.
“This study shows that there is this extreme diversity out there,” study lead author Nikku Madhusudhan, now of Princeton University, told SPACE.com. “Fifteen years or so since the discovery of the first exoplanet, we’re just beginning to appreciate how different they can be.” [Space.com]