News / Science & Technology

Astronomers Detect Madly Whirling Distant Planet

Gemini Planet Imager¹s First Light Image of Beta Pictoris b
Gemini Planet Imager¹s First Light Image of Beta Pictoris b
Reuters
Are you the type of person who gets dizzy just watching a merry-go-round go round and round? If so, don't plan a visit to the planet known as Beta Pictoris b. The thing spins like mad.
 
Scientists said on Wednesday that for the first time, they have measured the spin of a planet outside our solar system - a large gas planet located a relatively close 63 light years from Earth.

They determined that the planet spins faster than any in our solar system, with a rotational velocity at its equator of about 56,000 miles per hour (almost 100,000 kph).

Jupiter, a large gas planet that has the quickest spin in our solar system, whirls at about 29,000 miles per hour (47,000 kph) while Earth spins at about 1,000 miles per hour (1,700 kph).

A day on Beta Pictoris b lasts only eight hours, compared to 10 hours for Jupiter and 24 hours for Earth.

Scientists have spotted about 1,800 planets beyond our solar system, but very little is known about these distant worlds including the basics like what they are made of and how they travel around their stars.

Beta Pictoris b is one of the better understood of these planets. It is one of only about a dozen that have been directly observed rather than found using indirect detection methods in which scientists can only see the planet's influence on the host star.

"Only if we know more about other planets - like temperatures, atmosphere and rotation - can we tell how unique our home in the universe really is," said one of the researchers, Bernhard Brandl, an astronomy professor at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

Beta Pictoris b is big, hot and young. It is about 3,000 times more massive than Earth and seven times more massive than Jupiter, our solar system's largest planet. It is only about 20 million years old, compared to about 4.5 billion years for
Earth, and is still hot from its formation, the scientists said.

Its host star, Beta Pictoris, is approximately twice as massive and 10 times as luminous as our Sun.

The head-spinning speed at which Beta Pictoris b whirls, the scientists said, lends support to the notion that a planet's rotational velocity is closely related to its size: the bigger, the faster.

"Yes, the relation between mass and spin velocity was already known in our solar system," said University of Leiden astronomy professor Ignas Snellen, another of the researchers.
 
"We now extend it to a more massive planet to see that the relation still holds. We need to observe more planets to confirm this is really a universal law," Snellen added.

The technique the scientists used to measure the planet's spin was based on the Doppler effect, the well-known phenomenon people notice when they hear a change in the pitch of an ambulance siren when the vehicle whizzes by.

"When we observe a rotating planet, the light from one half, which is approaching us, has a slightly different frequency, or color, than the other half, which is receding from us. The relative difference in color, or frequency, between the two halves is a measure of the spin-rotation velocity," Brandl said.

Beta Pictoris b is located in the southern constellation of Pictor and was discovered about six years ago. It orbits eight times farther from its host star than Earth orbits the Sun.

The scientists are hoping in the future to make a global map of it including possible cloud patterns and storms. The research was published in the journal Nature.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs