Strange new planets discovered in bizarre new worlds
European CoRoT satellite reveals 6 new exoplanets that may change how we understand the evolution of other solar systems.
Thu, Jun 17 2010 at 8:36 PM
NEW WORLD: An artist’s concept of a methane-free exoplanet. (Photo: NASA)
Since 1995, astronomers have discovered about 450 exoplanets that exist outside our solar system. Recently, they found more than they bargained for. Space.com reports that the European CoRoT satellite has discovered six new exoplanets. One of the worlds is twice the size of Jupiter, and all of them have strange and unique characteristics.
CoRoT (Convection Rotation and planetary Transits) is operated by the French space agency CNES. Launched in 2006, it is a planet-hunting spacecraft that observes stars over long periods of time. CoRoT contains 27-cm diameter afocal telescope and a 4-CCD camera designed to study stars and the light they emit. One way it looks for planets is to study the variations of lights passing by stars — many of which prove to be orbiting planets. And once CoRoT sees an exoplanet, it focuses in to reveal an abundance of information.
The most recent exoplanets revealed by CoRoT are extremely interesting. They are diverse in their defining characteristics, which could provide a boon of information for astronomers. Magali Deleuil is the head of CoRoT's exoplanet program in France. As the scientists told Space.com, "The increasing size of the census, which includes objects with very diverse characteristics, is of vital importance for better understanding of planetary systems other than our own.” Experts agree that studying this new variety of planet will increase our understanding of how planets and their systems evolve.
The new exoplanets are called CoRoT-8b, CoRoT-10b, CoRoT-11b, CoRoT-12b, CoRoT-13b and CoRoT-14b. Some of the planets are thought to be “hot Jupiters.” This is not unusual, as experts point out that many exoplanets “are giant planets thought to resemble Jupiter; this partly reflects a sampling bias in that more massive planets are easier to detect with current technology.” Exoplanets CoRoT-12b, 13b and 14b are believed to orbit extremely closely to their parent stars. Meanwhile, CoRoT-8b is thought to be an icy planet similar to Uranus or Neptune.
And some of the exoplanets can’t make up their minds in terms of temperature. CoRoT-10b has a strange orbit that results in wildly different temperatures across its surface. Scientists think that its temperature can increase 600 degrees — in 13 days. Meanwhile, the extremely hot CoRoT-14b is about the size of Jupiter, but with 7.5 times the mass and six times the density.
Next up for exoplanet-hunting spacecrafts is the PLATO, which will have 34 telescopes and be able to determine the age of exoplanets. It is set to launch in 2017 or 2018.
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