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The European Space Agency’s Characterising Exoplanet Satellite (Cheops) has come across a planetary body, which is not only weirdly shaped but highly deformed. The exoplanet, orbiting its host star in just a day’s time, is the first time a deformed planet has been discovered.
The exoplanet has offered new insights into the internal structure of these star-hugging planets. Dubbed WASP-103b, it is located in the constellation of Hercules orbiting its host star WASP-103, which is about 200 degrees hotter and 1.7 times larger than the Sun. The major deformity of the planet is linked to the massive tidal forces between the planet and its host star.
The discovery published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics stated that this is the first time that the tidal deformation is directly detected (at 3 ) from the transit light curve of an exoplanet. “This will allow us to constrain the internal structure and composition of WASP-103b, which could provide clues on the inflation of hot Jupiter,” the paper said.
The deformity of the planet is being accounted to the massive tidal pull of its host star due to its proximity. Tidal forces are experienced on Earth as well, which leads to the movement of ocean waters and currents from the gravitational pull of the Moon. However, the Moon is far away for it to not start deforming Earth.
That’s not the case with WASP-103b, which is almost twice the size of Jupiter with 1.5 times its mass. The planet revolves around the star in one day and astronomers have suspected that such close proximity would cause monumental tides, but up until now, they haven’t been able to measure them.
They have now been able to detect how tidal forces deform exoplanet WASP-103b from a usual sphere into a rugby ball shape.
The European Space Agency said that the team was able to use the transit light curve of WASP-103b to derive a parameter the Love number that measures how mass is distributed within a planet. The Love number for WASP-103b is similar to Jupiter, which tentatively suggests that the internal structure is similar, despite WASP-103b having twice the radius.
“The resistance of a material to being deformed depends on its composition. For example, here on Earth we have tides due to the Moon and the Sun but we can only see tides in the oceans. The rocky part doesn’t move that much. By measuring how much the planet is deformed, we can tell how much of it is rocky, gaseous or water,” Susana Barros, lead author of the research said.
Astronomers have also noticed a mysterious development happening in the system. The tidal interactions between a star and a very close-in Jupiter-sized planet would usually cause the planet’s orbital period to shorten, bringing it gradually closer to the star before it is eventually engulfed by the parent star. However, it’s not happening, and it appears as if the planet is instead moving away from the star.
Researchers are now hopeful of observing this unique, weird-looking planet with the James Webb Telescope, once it becomes operational.
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