With a radius about 1.46 times that of Jupiter, WASP-193b, however, has a mass only 0.139 times that of Jupiter. These figures lead to the planet's astonishing density of 0.059 grams per cubic centimeter. Cotton candy, on the other hand, registers a density of 0.05 grams per cubic centimeter.
In a surprising discovery, astronomers have uncovered what they have aptly dubbed as the cotton candy exoplanet.
Despite being nearly 50 percent larger than Jupiter, an exoplanet, now christened WASP-193b, has been discovered with a remarkably low density, resembling that of cotton candy.
Astronomers Uncover “Cotton Candy” Exoplanet
WASP-193b, located 1,232 light-years from us, orbits a star similar to our sun but at a considerably closer distance than any planet in our solar system. Its brisk orbit concludes in just 6.25 days. This orbital behavior, particularly how the starlight changes during this cycle, permitted an international group of scientists, led by astronomer Khalid Barkaoui from the University of Liège in Belgium, to determine the exoplanet’s radius and mass.
Comparing Celestial Densities
With a radius about 1.46 times that of Jupiter, WASP-193b, however, has a mass only 0.139 times that of Jupiter. These figures lead to the planet’s astonishing density of 0.059 grams per cubic centimeter. For perspective, Earth’s density stands at 5.51 grams per cubic centimeter, while Jupiter, known for its cloud cover, possesses a density of 1.33 grams per cubic centimeter. Cotton candy, on the other hand, registers a density of 0.05 grams per cubic centimeter.
Unraveling the Mystery of the “Cotton Candy” Exoplanet
There’s a handful of exoplanets with densities similar to WASP-193b, giving some hints on the formation of such lightweight celestial bodies. A close proximity to the parent star can cause the atmospheric heat to inflate, especially if the atmosphere primarily consists of hydrogen and helium. However, this phenomenon can only explain the likeness to WASP-193b in a star’s early, hotter years. The heat and stellar winds could easily erode such a diffuse atmosphere.
Challenges and Future Research
This discovery raises intriguing questions, considering that the parent star is estimated to be up to 6 billion years old. While an internal mechanism might exist to inflate WASP-193b’s atmosphere, current advanced planetary evolution models fail to replicate the observed properties of this exoplanet. The silver lining, however, is that WASP-193b presents an ideal candidate for future study, including its atmospheric composition. As the team suggests, transit observations, designed for instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope, could shed light on the existence of this peculiar, fluffy, and ancient world in the cosmos. The research awaits official publication and is currently accessible on arXiv.
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