Astronomers have discovered a new “fluffy” planet

(CNN) — What goes great with a fluffy cotton candy mix? It turns out to be a planet.

An international coalition of astronomers has discovered an unusual planet named WASP-193b. The planet is 50% larger than Jupiter and the second lightest planet ever discovered.

But WASP-193b, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth beyond our solar system, is not just a scientific oddity. According to a study on the discovery published in the journal Mars, the exoplanet is important for future research into the formation of exotic planets. Natural Astronomy.

This sponge candy planet is not alone; There are other similar planets in the class that scientists jokingly call “fluffy Jupiters.” The lightest planet ever discovered is Kepler 51d, which is almost the size of Jupiter but a hundred times lighter than the gas giant.

Fluffy Jupiter has been a mystery for 15 years, according to the study's lead author, Khalid Bargou. But, because of its size, WASP-193b is an excellent candidate for further analysis by the James Webb Space Telescope and other observatories.

“This planet is so light that it's hard to think of a similar object in the solid state,” says Barghoui, a postdoctoral researcher in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Press release. “The reason it looks like cotton candy is that both are made of light gases rather than solids. This planet is basically very fluffy.”

A low-density planet poses a major challenge

Planet WASP-193b, which researchers believe is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, has been a big puzzle for researchers. Because the density of an exoplanet is so low for its size, calculating its mass is challenging.

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Normally, scientists determine mass using a technique called radial velocity, in which researchers see how it moves. Ghost A diagram showing the intensity of light emissions at different wavelengths of a star as a planet orbits it. The larger the planet, the more the star's spectrum changes. But this did not work in the case of WASP-193b. It is so faint that it exerts no gravitational pull on the star that the team can detect.

Because of how small the mass signal was, it took the team four years to collect the data and calculate WASP-193b's mass, Barghoui explained. Because the very low numbers they found were so rare, the researchers ran several data analysis tests.

“At first we obtained a very low density, which was very hard to believe,” said Francisco Bozulos, co-author of the study and principal investigator at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia, in a statement.

In the end, the team found that the planet's mass was a paltry 14% of Jupiter's mass, even though it was very large.

But the larger size means a larger “extended atmosphere,” said study co-author Julian de Wit, an associate professor of planetary science at MIT. This means that WASP-193b opens a window of information that could be very useful for understanding the formation of these sponge planets.

“The bigger a planet's atmosphere, the more light can pass through it,” de Wit told CNN. “So it's clear that this planet is one of the best objects to study atmospheric effects. It could be a Rosetta Stone to solve the mystery of fluffy Jupiter.”

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But it's also not clear how WASP-193b evolved, Barghoui said. “Classical models of evolution” of gas giants do not fully explain this phenomenon.

“WASP-193b is the outermost of all planets discovered to date,” he said.

Misty Tate

"Freelance twitter advocate. Hardcore food nerd. Avid writer. Infuriatingly humble problem solver."

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