For hottest planet, a major meltdown, study shows | 1/25/2020 | Staff
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In the scorching atmosphere of exoplanet KELT-9b, even molecules are torn to shreds.

Massive gas giants called "hot Jupiters"—planets that orbit too close to their stars to sustain life—are some of the strangest worlds found beyond our solar system. New observations show that the hottest of them all is stranger still, prone to planetwide meltdowns so severe they tear apart the molecules that make up its atmosphere.

KELT-9b - Planet - Jupiter - Varieties - Exoplanets—planets

Called KELT-9b, the planet is an ultra-hot Jupiter, one of several varieties of exoplanets—planets around other stars—found in our galaxy. It weighs in at nearly three times the mass of our own Jupiter and orbits a star some 670 light-years away. With a surface temperature of 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit (4,300 degrees Celsius) - hotter than some stars—this planet is the hottest found so far.

Now, a team of astronomers using NASA's Spitzer space telescope has found evidence that the heat is too much even for molecules to remain intact. Molecules of hydrogen gas are likely ripped apart on the dayside of KELT-9b, unable to re-form until their disjointed atoms flow around to the planet's nightside.

Nightside - Cooling - Hydrogen - Gas - Molecules

Though still extremely hot, the nightside's slight cooling is enough to allow hydrogen gas molecules to reform—that is, until they flow back to the dayside, where they're torn apart all over again.

"This kind of planet is so extreme in temperature, it is a bit separate from a lot of other exoplanets," said Megan Mansfield, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and lead author of a new paper revealing these findings. "There are some other hot Jupiters and ultra-hot Jupiters that are not quite as hot but still warm enough that this effect should be taking place."

Findings - Astrophysical - Journal - Letters - Sophistication

The findings, published in Astrophysical Journal Letters, showcase the rising sophistication of the technology and analysis needed to probe these very distant worlds. Science is...
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