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Astrophysicists Find "Impossible" Planet 436

SpuriousLogic writes "Scientists have discovered a planet that shouldn't exist. The finding, they say, could alter our understanding of orbital dynamics, a field considered pretty well settled since the time of astronomer Johannes Kepler 400 years ago. The planet is known as a 'hot Jupiter,' a gas giant orbiting the star Wasp-18, about 330 light years from Earth. The planet, Wasp-18b, is so close to the star that it completes a full orbit (its "year") in less than an Earth day, according to the research, which was published in the journal Nature. Of the more than 370 exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than our sun — discovered so far, this is just the second with such a close orbit. The problem is that a planet that close should be consumed by its parent star in less than a million years, say the authors at Keele University in England. The star Wasp-18 is believed to be about a billion years old, and since stars and the planets around them are thought to form at the same time, Wasp-18b should have been reduced to cinders ages ago."
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Astrophysicists Find "Impossible" Planet

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  • by Helmholtz ( 2715 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:48AM (#29215995) Homepage

    ...IT'S A TRAP!!!!!

  • A planet must orbit the Sun.

  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:50AM (#29216043)
    Does anyone else feel that this planet might be able to defy conventional orbital mechanics through the power of Concentrated Evil?
  • You should meet the aliens living on it.

    They're tougher than Chuck Norris (and that was supposed to be impossible too).

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Chuck Norris is a native of the planet, our yellow sun saps his powers.

    • by thisnamestoolong ( 1584383 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:25AM (#29216621)
      Hah, tougher than Chuck Norris, indeed.

      Scientists calculated the weather conditions on a similar "hot Jupiter", HD 189733b, and came up with some pretty amazing results. HD 189733b is locked into synchronous orbit around its parent star in the same manner that the moon orbits the Earth, in that the rotational period directly matches the orbital period (which is fairly common for close orbiting planets, it is very plausible that Wasp 18b could be a similar story), leaving one side of the planet perpetually day, the other perpetually night. As the planet is only 3 million miles from its parent star, it was not overly surprising to find daytime highs of 2,000 - 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. What was surprising, however, was the nighttime temperature of roughly 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit! This indicates that the atmosphere is incredibly efficient at transferring heat, which means a lot of "air" (NOTE: The atmosphere of HD 189733b is NOT air, but a completely alien mixture of gasses.) moving around. When they calculated the winds that would be necessary to sustain such heat transfer, it was determined that HD 189733b would need to sustain windspeeds of approximately 7,000 mph, making Hurricane Katrina look like a nice ocean breeze by comparison. The weather conditions on Wasp 18b are likely similar; any beings that lived there would indeed have to be extremely tough, and Chuck Norris would most likely be checking his closet for them before going to bed.
  • by jofny ( 540291 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:51AM (#29216067) Homepage
    It's Disaster Area's stage in a parking orbit.
  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:52AM (#29216075) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps it was thrown from a different solar system and captured by its star.

    • or (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stickrnan ( 1290752 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:57AM (#29216173)

      perhaps it's spiraling to its demise after billions of years in a decaying orbit.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by superyooser ( 100462 )

        To "young"-earth creationists, what we see here is certainly not "impossible," or improbable. In fact, it is to be expected!

        That planet is "impossible" because their "science" is impossible.

        Orbital dynamics "settled" science for 400 years? The age of the universe (ballpark figure) had been settled for a lot longer than that until modern, naturalist scientists decided to unsettle it. Look who's doing the backpedaling now... (Not saying they'll return to Genesis for answers; they'll just devise even more

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:53AM (#29216101)

    The Beast is imprisoned there!

  • And it started out a billion years ago much further away...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nedlohs ( 1335013 )

      And we just happened to look at it during that 0.1% of its lifespan...

      Which is possible of course, and more likely than that percentage since our observation methods find close to the star planets more easily selecting for that case.

  • It's closer to 6600 years? :)
  • by psychicsword ( 1036852 ) * <The@@@psychicsword...com> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @09:59AM (#29216199)
    Its the Impossible Planet [wikipedia.org] tell him to look for The Satan Pit [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Zordak ( 123132 )
      That alleged episode does not exist. For "The Impossible Planet" to exist, The Doctor would have to be such a rube that he doesn't understand that it is entirely possible for a planet to orbit a black hole without needing a "Magic Gravity Cone." I've been rather fond of The Doctor since my childhood, when I used to watch the Tom Baker shows and they'd scare the crap out of me (and I loved it), so I refuse to believe he's such a rube. The only logical explanation is that some David Tennant lookalike hijac
      • by Cassini2 ( 956052 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:45AM (#29216903)

        Actually, I thought about your point when the show aired. In fact, it is impossible for that planet to exist. You can't form a long-term stable orbit around a black hole. From a two-body, Newtonian point-mass analysis, yes the planet can exist. However, a planet that close to a black hole will be affected by Einstein's General Relativity, which predicts a collapsing orbit. Additionally, the planet would be experiencing severe gravitational stresses and magnetic stresses, causing it to break up or its orbit to decay. The other matter collapsing into the black hole would disrupt the "stable" orbit, also causing the planet's orbit to decay or it to break up. In short, I don't think that it is possible to have a long-term stable orbit around an black hole when it is consuming matter.

        If you want a bigger plot "hole", think about where the magic gravity beam came from. Why would it come from a black hole? If it came from the planet, then why was it pointed in space? If the evil creature could create a gravity beam big enough to save a planet, then why couldn't he make a slightly bigger one and take over the universe? Maybe, we need to accept that any Sci-Fi plot will have its weak points, and suspend our disbelief.

        The Satan Pit / Impossible Pit were really great Doctor Who episodes. Maybe we should appreciate them for that, instead of taking apart the physics?

        • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @12:02PM (#29218043) Journal

          Actually, I thought about your point when the show aired. In fact, it is impossible for that planet to exist. You can't form a long-term stable orbit around a black hole. From a two-body, Newtonian point-mass analysis, yes the planet can exist. However, a planet that close to a black hole will be affected by Einstein's General Relativity, which predicts a collapsing orbit. Additionally, the planet would be experiencing severe gravitational stresses and magnetic stresses, causing it to break up or its orbit to decay. The other matter collapsing into the black hole would disrupt the "stable" orbit, also causing the planet's orbit to decay or it to break up. In short, I don't think that it is possible to have a long-term stable orbit around an black hole when it is consuming matter.

          Okay, I'll bite. What's the difference between a black hole and any other star, from a reasonable distance? A black hole's just a mass, that within a certain distance of the black hole (the Schwarzschild radius) acts very oddly indeed, but outside that distance, acts like any other large mass. A black hole could have the same mass as the Earth (but be the size of a golf ball) and the moon would still orbit it just fine, wouldn't it? It seems to me the main problem the planet would have is that a black hole would be, well, black, so the planet would be as cold as Pluto.

  • Nature paper (Score:5, Interesting)

    by petaflop ( 682818 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:00AM (#29216217)
    Nature paper here [nature.com]. Interesting quote:

    For comparison, WASP-18b's infall timescale is an order of magnitude shorter than that of the much-discussed OGLE-TR-56b6, 7 (assuming that Q is the same for both), and gives a current rate of period change of â"0.00073 (106/Q) s/yr. For low values of Q this would accumulate to a detectable change in transit epoch in less than a decade (for Q = 106 the transit time shifts by 28 s after 10 yr, which compares with a currently achievable timing accuracy of 5 s). Thus WASP-18b is a diagnostic planet, either (for a low Q) being an exceptionally rare object in which the tidal decay is directly measurable, or forcing a reappraisal to much higher Q values; either way it will help establish the dynamical ages of the class of hot-Jupiter planets. WASP-18 will also help constrain our understanding of stellar interiors, given that the Q value depends on the dissipation of interior waves excited by the tidal forcing.

    So if the orbit is decaying, we'll be able to measure it in 10 years, otherwise there will be useful data to refine theories about tidal forces in the surfaces of stars.

  • by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:01AM (#29216241) Journal

    Interesting how in the article, they never use the word "impossible". Infact, they actually put forward a handful of possible (although unlikely)ways that this may have occurred.

    There's bazillions of things that are unlikely to happen, but the universe is a big place. While we can't predict which particular weird thing we might observe next time, we shouldn't be all that surprised that weirdness is out there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      we shouldn't be all that surprised that weirdness is out there.

      We're not. What we are doing, is being misled by.. journalistic license

      In this case, a subtle "impossible" (that was never in the source) was added. Maybe it wasn't conscious, but as you can see from the comments, it's the exact very thing that most people are focusing on. I call that clever (but largely.. poor) reporting.

      I'm reticent to post this, but hey, I believe there is a fundamental problem with the way the media reports science, I wrote this a few weeks ago [richjones.com], after another slashdot article.

  • by Osvaldo Doederlein ( 34220 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:03AM (#29216265) Homepage

    ...formed one billion years ago, but originally much more distant from the star. But its orbit was not stable, approaching quickly (in astronomical time) to the star; and we're just lucky to have found it in the final stage of the death spiral. If this is the case, it may even be possible to watch the final spectacle in a timeframe reasonable for human scale (a few thousand years, perhaps centuries, or even less).

    Wild speculation of course... but just to be safe, I'm immediately canceling all my plans of space vacations near the Wasp18 system. I never liked wasps anyway.

    • There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy. If we look at enough of them then at some point by the laws of probability we're going to find a planet on its final death spiral into the star. I don't see what the issue is. Ok , if in 50 years time the planets orbit hasn't changed *then* we start to worry and revisit our theories.

  • Hot Jupiter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:05AM (#29216303)
    Perhaps instead of a hot Jupiter what they have found is a cold sun?
    • by sleeponthemic ( 1253494 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:26AM (#29216637) Homepage
      I propose the term "ugly jupiter" in conjuction with "fridgid star". We shall call the orbit "the chastity belt".
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by codewarren ( 927270 )

      This is modded funny, but this was exactly my thought. I presume this was considered, and that there is a reason to have ruled it out, but there are already binary stars which sound like two identically sized stars orbiting each other, but are not always identically sized. Since scientists think that really large gas giants are just stars that weren't big enough to initiate fusion, it doesn't seem to much of a stretch to think that the "hot jupiter" is just a case of a binary star where one never made it

  • by quatin ( 1589389 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:07AM (#29216331)
    "Oh wait, I just forgot to add resistance." - Quoted by my high school physics teacher. There are plenty of human error involved with not applying the laws of physics correctly. Let's not all get on the bandwagon just yet that we have broken the laws of physics. I doubt even the scientists involved believe this, it's just another slow news day at the LA times and they're trying to make something big out of something little.
  • alternatively (Score:5, Interesting)

    by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare @ g m a il.com> on Thursday August 27, 2009 @10:10AM (#29216393) Homepage Journal

    we're actually watching the planet in the process of being consumed

    which would be highly unlikely, to get that timing right, as there's a window of only a couple thousand years in which we could see that happen, but maybe that's what we're really seeing

    in which case, rather than revise orbital dynamics, this planet could contribute to our understanding of astrophysics/ michael bay style thermodynamics by allowing us to watch a jupiter sized planet ripped to smithereens in real time

  • We have filed notices to build an intergalactic highway through that planet. Notice can be perused in a nearby star, hardly 4.5 light years away in a dark unlit basement without stairs in a filing cabinet in a disused toilet, with a "Beware of the Cheetah" sign on the door.
  • I'm going with the "a bunch of fraternity aliens pulling a practical joke" theory.

    To be serious, hasn't science had a history of finding "impossible" things, then turned out to be 1) a mistake 2) something new that changed some thinking 3) a weird-ass anomaly 4) the platypus? Let's all just calm down until we find the platypus alien pranksters!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      Yes, except we use slightly different terms. Only the non-scientists need to calm down, though. Finding things you didn't expect is par for the course.

  • So every day(year) after lunch, those guys are talking about how this is a HOT summer this day. The idle banter about the weather must get really repetitive there.
  • WASPs always look old for their age!


    I'll be here all week. Please tip your waiters...
  • In Soviet Russia the red star orbits You!

  • I'm skeptical (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @11:02AM (#29217133)

    I once managed a junior programmer who would insist that the compiler had a bug in it when she couldn't get her program to work.

    We eventually fired her.

    Why do I mention this? Because, as a programmer, when I get results I don't expect, I tend to assume that I have made a mistake somewhere. I don't assume that the underlying theory of how computers work is in error.

    Are they even sure that they're looking at a planet? My first assumption would be that they are not seeing what they think they were seeing, rather than there is a flaw in the theory of orbital dynamics.

    I'm not being accusatory here, just skeptical.

  • What are the odds? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aegl ( 1041528 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @11:21AM (#29217373)

    Perhaps we've stumbled across this planet during the last million years of its billion year life-cycle. Sounds like a one in a thousand chance that we'd do that. But the summary says that over 370 exo-planets[1] have been found ... so (waves hands as if doing actual math) its about a 1 in 3 chance that one of the planets we've found so far will be in some one in a thousand situation.

    Wait until Kepler starts kicking in a few thousand more exo-planets to the database. Then we'll see even more "impossible" situations.

    [1] http://exoplanets.org/ [exoplanets.org] says the current tally is just 358

  • Doctor Who (Score:3, Interesting)

    by polyomninym ( 648843 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @01:09PM (#29219021)
    This reminds me of that episode of the new series of Doctor Who, The Impossible Planet. Scientists were studying a planet that was somehow kept from getting sucked into a black hole that it was next to. To me, it was definitely the best episode covering the nature of deep fears. Oh, and if you starred through the "sun roof" at the black hole for too long, it would drive you insane.
  • by hesaigo999ca ( 786966 ) on Thursday August 27, 2009 @04:23PM (#29222275) Homepage Journal

    Maybe the way they think to calculate the orbit, size, or even longevity of a planet might be wrong, lending to the assumption that this SHOULD NOT BE. But it is...here is a plain fact...many variables in the universe have yet to be figured out...and many still have room for change. The fact remains, this should not be, so it isn't either they saw wrong or calculated wrong, but which ever it is, we are FAR
    from being close to having a good science to judge what is "OUT THERE"!

    ps- How about we develop the capability to travel out into space without costing billions each time, and then maybe we can start looking at getting a clue how to calculate distances of planets belonging to another solar system 400 light years away...eyh?

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"