Added: Jeramiah Terpstra - Date: 21.04.2022 13:49 - Views: 47875 - Clicks: 1848
It may be hard to imagine a planet blacker than coal, but that's what astronomers say they've discovered in our home galaxy with NASA's Kepler space telescope. Orbiting only about three million miles out from its star , the Jupiter-size gas giant planet, dubbed TrES-2b, is heated to 1, degrees Fahrenheit degrees Celsius. Yet the apparently inky world appears to reflect almost none of the starlight that shines on it, according to a new study. The Earth -orbiting Kepler spacecraft was specifically deed to find planets outside our solar system. But at such distances—TrES-2b, for instance, is light-years from us—it's not as simple as snapping pictures of alien worlds.
Instead, Kepler—using light sensors called photometers that continuously monitor tens of thousands of stars—looks for the regular dimming of stars. Such dips in stellar brightness may indicate that a planet is transiting, or passing in front of a star, relative to Earth, blocking some of the star's light—in the case of the coal-black planet, blocking surprisingly little of that light.
When a planet passes in front of its star, the world's shaded side faces Kepler. But as the planet begins orbiting to the side of and "behind" its star, its star-facing side comes to face the viewer. The amount of starlight grows until the planet, becoming invisible to Kepler, passes fully in back of its star.
Watching TrES-2b and its star, Kepler detected only the slightest such dimming and brightening, though enough to ascertain that a Jupiter-size gas giant was the cause. The light reflected by the newfound extrasolar planet, or exoplanet, changed by only about 6. What's more, as the coal-black planet passed in front of its star, the starlight's dimming was "so small that it's like the dip in brightness we would see with a fruit fly going in front of a car headlight.
Current computer models predict that hot-Jupiter planets—gas giants that orbit very close to their stars—could be only as dark as Mercury, which reflects about 10 percent of the sunlight that hits it. But TrES-2b is so dark that it reflects only one percent of the starlight that strikes it, suggesting that the current models may need tweaking, Kipping said.
Assuming the new study's measurements are sound, what exactly is making the new planet's atmosphere so dark? TrES-2b may even represent a whole new class of exoplanet—a possibility Kipping and company hope to put to the test with Kepler, which has so far detected hundreds of planets outside our solar system.
Meanwhile, the very darkness of the new exoplanet suggests perhaps a catchier moniker for TrES-2b, Kipping said. The coal-black planet study has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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Darkest Planet Found: Coal-Black, It Reflects Almost No Light