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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid