A new planet has been discovered, and according to astronomers it looks more like a vegetable than the spherical globe shape we’re all accustomed to.
An international team of astronomers working for the European Space Agency (ESA) made the discovery during an exoplanet mission named CHEOPS.
The planet, named WASP-103b, was found to be larger than the sun and one-and-a-half times the size of Jupiter, as well as having an unusual form.
WASP-103b, which is located 1,500 light-years away from Earth around an F-type star, is said to be shaped like a potato, Inverse reports.
The planet is thought to have become such a strange shape because of its close proximity –less than 20,000 miles – to its home star, meaning tidal stresses pull the planet in such a way that it affects its overall shape.
WASP-103b was first discovered by astronomers in 2014. Upon first studying the planet, researchers realised it took 22 hours to orbit its home star, called WASP-103, and that because of it’s close proximity, WASP-103b would likely experience severe tidal stresses.
While the planet hasn’t got the shortest orbital period ever seen, with the most fleeting being less than 10 hours, it was noted that WASP-103b’s time still had the potential to cause quite an impact to its shape.
Despite this, the odd appearance of the planet was only recently confirmed by astronomers, who used data collected via the NASA space telescopes Hubble and Spitzer to do so.
The telescopes were able to analyse the planet’s shape by waiting for the WASP-103b to pass in front of its home star. As this happened, the Hubble and Spitzer then monitored how much the star appeared to dim as the planet moved across it, and how much light curved around. This gave a reading of the size and shape of the planet.
Kate Isaak, an ESA Project Scientist for CHEOPS, told Phys.org:
The size of the effect of tidal deformation on an exoplanet transit light curve is very small, but thanks to the very high precision of Cheops we are able to see this for the first time.
As a result of tidal forces, the equator of the WASP-103b is believed to have been stretched and become an oblong shape. This type of dramatic effect has never occurred in any planets within our Solar System as they located too far away from the sun.
Jacques Laskar, a co-author of the research and astronomer at the the Universite Paris Sciences et Lettres, stated:
It’s incredible that Cheops was actually able to reveal this tiny deformation. This is the first time such analysis has been made, and we can hope that observing over a longer time interval will strengthen this observation and lead to better knowledge of the planet’s internal structure
It is hoped the recent revelation could lead to a greater understanding of the internal structure of WASP-103b, and how the planet impacts the world’s atmosphere. It has also been suggested the exoplanet is moving away from its star; if this is the case, further analysis could help uncover the cause.
Isaak concluded, ‘This study is an excellent example of the very diverse questions that exoplanet scientists are able to tackle with Cheops, illustrating the importance of this flexible follow-up mission.’
The mission’s findings were published on January 11, in Astronomy and Astrophysics.
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