Even though astrophysicists are known for their intelligence and resourcefulness in picking up on the behaviors of astral bodies (otherwise they wouldn’t be very good at their jobs), many things about our surrounding Universe remain mostly unknown despite decades of us looking at the stars and despite all the advances we’ve made in technology.
And even regarding subjects about which we’ve been certain for decades, new things that put into question many of our previous are often discovered. So we shouldn’t be surprised when scientists can’t really explain the behavior of certain floating space rocks. For example, despite their best attempts at coming up with theories, scientists still can’t explain the mysterious behavior of migrating hot Jupiters.
Mysterious hot Jupiters
Even though it might sound like something Robin would exclaim at Batman, hot Jupiters are actually quite aptly, albeit somewhat self-importantly named planets. Scientists refer as ‘hot Jupiters’ to planets similar to our very own gas giant, but ones that are much hotter than the one in our solar system.
While these planets are generally very similar to Jupiter in everything but temperature, occasionally something will be so strange regarding one of them that scientists really can’t explain why or how that could really be the case. For example, take the recently discovered HD 80606 b.
HD 80606 b and its oval orbit
As mentioned before, HD 80606 b is very similar to Jupiter in pretty much everything but temperature… and in this case, its orbit. Located some 190 light years away from Earth, the gas giant has one of the weirdest orbits encountered by astronomers. The planet’s uncanny orbit is more similar to that of a comet than to that of a planet.
The planet travels in a very elongated ovaloid orbit, travelling far away from its star for 111 days. Then, in just a matter of 20 hours, it makes its home approach, nearly touching the star in its passing, only to move on and repeat the cycle. Researchers say that as it does this, it reaches temperatures of close to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Will the oval become a circle?
Several theories regarding the circumstances behind HD 80606 b’s peculiar orbit were of course formulated, but it would seem that none of them is actually very accurate. The theories included either a black hole or a massive planet pushing the plane into its eccentric orbit, but the relatively slow speed of the planet makes the theories unlikely.
Not only is the planet moving quite slowly, but it would seem that it would take some 10 billion years or more for it to assume a more normal pattern it in its travels. Its rotation rate is also much slower than expected, somewhere about 90 hours, challenging our current understanding of planet formation and planet-star interractions.
Image source: Wikimedia