Friday, May 24, 2024

Scientists discover large, ‘cotton candy-like’ planet with unusually low density

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  • Astronomers have discovered an exoplanet larger than Jupiter but incredibly lightweight, similar to cotton candy.
  • The planet, named WASP-193b, has an unusually low density compared to gas giants like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
  • Lead author Khalid Barkaoui from MIT describes the planet as “super fluffy” due to its composition of predominantly light gases rather than solids.

Astronomers have identified a planet that’s bigger than Jupiter yet surprisingly as fluffy and light as cotton candy.

The exoplanet has exceedingly low density for its size, an international team reported Tuesday. The gas giants in our solar system — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — are much denser.

“The planet is basically super fluffy” because it’s made mostly of light gases rather than solids, lead author Khalid Barkaoui of Massachusetts Institute of Technology said in a statement.

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Scientists say an outlier like WASP-193b is ideal for studying unconventional planetary formation and evolution. 

This illustration provided by NASA depicts the planet WASP 193-b. Scientists reported on May 14, 2024, that the exoplanet has such low density for its size that it’s the consistency of cotton candy. (NASA via AP)

The planet was confirmed last year, but it took extra time and work to determine its consistency based on observations by ground telescopes. It’s thought to consist mostly of hydrogen and helium, according to the study published in Nature Astronomy.

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The planet is located some 1,200 light-years away. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles. It’s the second-lightest exoplanet found so far based on its dimensions and mass, according to the researchers.



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