Second Jupiter May Change Understanding of Planets

Scientists have discovered an extra-solar planet orbiting Corot-9, and dubbed it Corot-9b.  The planet shares many characteristics with Jupiter, and is expected to help bring about a better understanding of exoplanets, and even tell us more about what our own solar system’s origins and properties are.

Corot-9, while uninhabitable by humans due to the hostile gravitational field created by its size, does promise to bring a wealth of knowledge to those studying it from Earth through telescopes.  The massive object is approximately 80% the size of Jupiter, and orbits its sun in a path similar to the Solar System’s own Mercury.

The object was first observed by the CoRoT space telescope under the guidance of the French space agency, the Centre National d’Ô°tudes Spatiales (CNES) founded in 1961.  The discovery is only the latest development demonstrating once again that the international community is taking an active role in the gathering of astronomical data in the wake of NASA’s massive budget cuts.  The CoRoT space telescope observed the anomalous planet as it was scanning the Serpens constellation in search of exo-planets.

The star around which Corot-9b orbits is approximately 1,500 light years from Earth.  If measured in miles, the distance would be approximately 8,817,749,720,000,000 miles away.  Its mass is so great that a human on its surface would be crushed instantly by the massive gravity, and any space-faring vehicle that approached it after a trillion year trek would be likely unable to take off afterward without a considerable push.

In recent years over 400 exoplanets have been discovered by various agencies and organizations, but unlike Corot-9b they are primarily hot gas giants huddling close to their suns and about to be consumed by them.  Most of these have surface temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  The reason the larger planets are so easy to discover is due to something called the “wobble” effect where the large gravitational field causes perturbations which cause the stars to appear to wobble in their movements when observed over time.  Unfortunately, most of the planets observed using this method will be impossible to inhabit, and life is unlikely to exist on their surfaces.

Another interesting aspect of the discovery is the lack of heat on the planet.  If the planet is heavily shielded by reflective material, surface temperatures could be anywhere from -4 degrees Fahrenheit to a sweltering 320.  Still, the surface is far less hot and/or cold than scientists are used to in an exoplanet.  The discovery paints a hopeful picture toward finding a sustainable planet that could not only contain Earthlike temperatures, but also be small enough to allow for human beings to survive on its surface, assuming someone could make the trip all the way out to it.  And Corot-9b could open up a whole new field of research regarding chemical effects on low temperature (relatively speaking) large planets outside of our system.

The study of exoplanets has been around since the 19th century, but the first confirmation came in 1988 when Canadian astronomers confirmed the existence of a gas giant orbiting Gamma Cephei.  Since research on exoplanets has only recently heated up, it’s important to understand that these first steps will result in large planets and as technology improves and becomes more fine tuned, smaller and more scientifically interesting planets will emerge from the night sky.