MIT scientists discover a planet that cannot be explained by theory

Researchers have discovered a planet with a density similar to that of cotton candy and greater than Jupiter.
Roberta Duarte

Roberta Duarte Meteored Brazil 05/20/2024 07:00 7 min

The formation and evolution of planets is one of the main areas of current astronomy. One of the reasons for the growing interest in this field is the search for Earth-like conditions elsewhere in the solar system, a current topic that has attracted a lot of attention from both the scientific community and society as a whole.

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Currently, More than 5,000 exoplanets have been found using different techniques, the most common of which is called transit. Transients occur when an object passes in front of a star and decreases in brightness for a certain period of time. By measuring how long the brightness decreases, it is possible to find the properties of the object causing the phenomenon.

A group from MIT has found a planet that challenges current theoretical models of planetary formation and evolution. The planet has been nicknamed “Puffy Jupiter” because of its size, but what really caught the attention was the low density of the planet. Researchers are trying to explain how this planet evolved.

What does the astronomical transit technique consist of?

When an object passes in front of a star, its brightness decreases depending on the size and distance of the object. The brightness decreases over a period of time and by combining the brightness with time it is possible to obtain information about the object. This technique is called an astronomical transit and can occur with any object that passes in front of the star.

planetary transit
Planetary transit method to observe and study exoplanets in orbit around stars. Credit: NASA.

This is the most common technique for finding exoplanets in orbit around other stars. By observing the variation in the star’s brightness, the planet’s orbit can be estimated and its size classification found. With current techniques, using the James Webb telescope, it is possible to find the composition of the exoplanet’s atmosphere.

The formation of the planets

The most accepted model of planetary formation is that of structures formed by gas and dust around newly formed stars. The disk has the same origin as the central star in a cloud that collapsed due to gravitational effects. Different regions of the disk collapse into smaller objects with most of the mass forming the central star.

The interactions that take place between the objects that form or between them and their environment affect the dynamics of the system, such as the formation of planets and the location of their orbit.

Depending on the distance from the central star, different types of planets can form. Smaller rocky planets often form in regions close to the star. In more distant regions, planets with greater amounts of hydrogen gas can form, such as the gas giant Jupiter.

Planetary evolution

After the formation of the planet, they can evolve over billions of years, which involves physical and chemical changes in their composition. The Earth itself went through a similar process to reach its current characteristics. One of the interesting aspects of the evolution of rocky planets is the presence of volcanic activity.

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Instead, On gaseous planets like Jupiter and Saturn there is a dynamic of the gas present in their atmosphere. An example would be the winds and hurricanes that occur on the surface of Jupiter. These dynamics can affect the composition and distribution of elements on the surface, and even affect the size of the planet in terms of pressure difference.

The planet that has left experts baffled

A group at MIT has studied in detail the planet WASP-193b, which is almost twice the size of Jupiter and has been nicknamed “Puffy Jupiter.” What caught the attention of the researchers is that WASP-193b has a density much lower than expected for planets of this size. This means that the planet’s mass is considerably small for a giant planet.

Planet WASP-193b
Illustration of the planet WASP-193b, which would be similar to the planet Jupiter. Credit: NASA.

According to researchers, the density of the planet is similar to that of cotton candy and it is difficult to explain how it evolved. It was found through transit techniques orbiting an F-type star. The planet orbits the star every 6.25 days and by analyzing its orbit they concluded how light the planet is.

In accordance with the authors, such a planet is considered rare and explaining its evolution is not yet possible with current models. The idea is that this more detailed observation will provide more details about this type of planet, which has an extremely low density despite being larger than the largest planet in the solar system.

Reference of the news:

Barkaoui et al. 2024 An extended low-density atmosphere around the Jupiter-sized planet WASP-193 b Nature Astronomy

 
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