Astronomers baffled by 'extraordinary' planet 3,000 light-years away with unusual orbit

European Space Observatory discusses ‘Stranger Exoplanets’

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Located nearly 3,000 light-years away in the Kepler-1704 system, the exoplanet is not one scientists are ever going to reach with a probe. But since its discovery in 2013, astronomers have been able to learn a lot about the planet’s unusually wide and eccentric orbit. Described as a “failed Jupiter”, Kepler-1704b is more than four times as big as the gas giant and it takes 988.88 days to complete a lap around its star.

Travelling from Earth at 60mph, estimates it would take you 30 billion years to reach the exoplanet.

Even travelling at the speed of light – 671 million mph – a visit is out of the question.

It would take you approximately 3,000 years to complete a one-way trip.

Scientists can, however, study the planet’s orbit by watching it pass or transit in front of its star every 2.7 years.

READ MORE: Carl Sagan proved right by Cassini probe 20 years after prediction

Exoplanet Kepler-1704b artist's impression

An artist’s impression of the ‘failed Jupiter’ exoplanet Kepler-1704 (Image: NASA)

NASA's Kepler space telescope in space

The exoplanet was discovered in 2013 by NASA’s Kepler space telescope (Image: NASA)

Transits cause brief dips in brightness that we can detect with our cutting-edge space telescopes.

Watching the 7.4-billion-year-old star Kepler-1704 for transits is how scientists detected the exoplanet in the first place.

And experts believe the exoplanet is a perfect candidate for observations for .

Astronomers from the Giant Outer Transiting Exoplanet Mass Survey (GOT ’EM) have now pre-published a paper describing their observations of this “extraordinary system”.

Penned by Dr Paul Alba from the University of California, Riverside, the paper is due to be published in the Astronomical Journal.

The study describes Kepler-1704b’s unusual eccentricity and how that affects its temperatures.

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In orbital mechanics, eccentricity describes a celestial body’s deviation from a perfectly circular orbit.

Earth, for example, has a small eccentricity of about 0.0167 – about as close to a perfect circle as you can get.

The difference between our closest and farthest distance from the Sun is only about three million miles.

Kepler-1704b, however, has an “extreme eccentricity” of about 0.921, meaning the exoplanet swings far out into its system before cosying up to its star again.

The researchers wrote in their paper: “Kepler-1704 b is a failed hot Jupiter that was likely excited to high eccentricity by scattering events that possibly began during its gas accretion phase.


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Jupiter incredible facts and figures

Jupiter incredible facts and figures: All you need to know about the gas giant (Image: EXPRESS)

NASA graphic of transiting exoplanets

Transiting planets cause dips in brightness when they pass in front of a stae (Image: NASA)

“Its final periastron distance was too large to allow for tidal circularization, so now it orbits its host from distances spanning 0.16 to 3.9 au.

“The maximum difference in planetary equilibrium temperature resulting from this elongated orbit is over 700K.”

A single astronomical unit (au) is a measure of distance based on the average distance between the Earth and the Sun – about 93 million miles.

Kepler-1704b, therefore, comes within 14.87 million miles of its star, at its closest, and more than 326.5 million miles at its farthest.

The wild discrepancies make Kepler-1704b a great object of interest for astronomers studying the evolution of planets.

Dr Alba and his team wrote: “Kepler-1704 b is an extraordinary system owing to its high eccentricity and transiting geometry.

“Much like HD 80606 b, Kepler-1704 b provides a laboratory for testing the extremes of planetary migration scenarios.

“Continued observation and characterization of this system stand to refine the theories underlying the formation and evolution of all planetary systems. “

The exoplanet orbits the star Kepler-1704b, which is bigger and heavier than our Sun.

According to NASA the star’s radius is about 1.7 times longer and the star weighs 1.13 times more.

William Murphy

William Murphy

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