WASHINGTON — A rocky planet 39 times as massive as the Earth has been discovered orbiting a distant star at breakneck speed, with astronomers concluding that it could be the remaining heart of a planet once maybe larger than Jupiter, which has been stripped of its gaseous atmosphere.
Researchers said it’s the largest rocky planet ever discovered on Wednesday, which will be the first-ever detected planetary center, providing a rare opportunity to better understand the interiors of gas giants like Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.
The world, named TOI-849b, orbits a star much smaller and cooler than the sun, located from Earth 730 light-years away. A light-year is the distance light which travels 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km) in a year.
Gas giants are composed of a solid core surrounded mostly by hydrogen and helium, with a vast atmosphere.
This planet may have been a giant gas like Jupiter, which through some violent evolution lost its outer shell then.
This may be because it collided with another planet at the end of its life, or later went too close to its host star and was stripped of its atmosphere, “said the University of Warwick’s astronomer David Armstrong, lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.
“On the other hand, the earth has been stuck as it was forming, creating a center but not producing the gas that we would usually expect.”
Its diameter of 27,000 miles (43,500 km) is much less than that of Neptune, the smallest of the four gas planets in our solar system, but much larger than the 7,900 miles (12,700 km) of Earth. It orbits incredibly close to its star-much closer than the innermost planet of our solar system, Mercury is to the sun-and travels ten times faster than Earth, completing an orbit every 18 hours.
“The TOI-849b itself is far more massive than we consider for the gas giant planetary core,” Armstrong said, “and this may indicate a new planetary formation or process of evolution that we do not yet understand.”
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