Astronomers discover what a new type of planet could be

English astronomers found an object that may be the first representative of a class of planets that until now was considered purely hypothetical.

Named TOI 849b, it orbits the star TOI 849, similar to our Sun, 730 light-years from Earth. Despite being only slightly smaller than Neptune, it has twice the density, which is closer to that of “terrestrial planets” (with a similar density to Earth), like ours or Venus.

This intrigues scientists, as it places it above what is considered the “maximum limit” in size for a terrestrial planet. One possible explanation is that it would be the exposed core of a gas giant, whose atmosphere has been uprooted: a chthonic planet.

“TOI 849b is the most massive terrestrial planet – which has a density similar to that of Earth – ever discovered. We hoped that such a massive planet had accumulated large amounts of hydrogen and helium when it formed, becoming something like Jupiter,” said astronomer David Armstrong, from the University of Warwick, UK.

“The fact that we don’t see these gases lets us know that this is an exposed planetary nucleus. This is the first time that we have discovered an intact exposed nucleus of a gas giant around a star.”


NASA space telescope, TESS. Photo: Reproduction

Discovery of the planet

The planet was discovered using the TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), a “planet hunter” space telescope operated by NASA. The data obtained suggest that the TOI 849b orbits very close to its star, completing one orbit every 18 hours, and has a surface temperature of around 1,500 ºC.

Its mass was calculated to be 39.1 times the mass of the Earth, or 2.3 times the mass of Neptune. This results in a density of 5.2 grams per cubic centimeter, very close to that of Earth (5.51 g / cm³) or Venus (5.24 g / cm³).

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“This is the planet of this most massive size that we know, extremely dense for something the size of Neptune, which suggests that this planet has a very unusual history. The fact that it is in a strange place for something with so much mass also makes us it helps – we don’t see planets with this mass and orbital periods so short, “said Armstrong.


There are two possibilities to explain TOI 849b: one is that it had an immense atmosphere like that of Jupiter, which was blown off due to the heat and proximity of its star, a phenomenon that we have seen in other exoplanets like Gliese 3470b.

Another possibility is that it started to form like a gas giant, but did not complete the process due to the lack of material, either because it was born “late” during the formation of the planetary system or was formed inside a “hole” in the material disk. around the star.

“In one way or another, TOI 849b was either a gas giant or failed to become one,” said Armstrong. “It is unprecedented, and it shows us that planets like this exist and can be found. We have the opportunity to look at the core of a planet in a way that we cannot do in our solar system.”

“We still have many open questions about Jupiter’s nucleus, and strange and unusual exoplanets like this one give us a window to observe the planetary formation that we cannot explore otherwise”, he completes.

Source: Science Alert


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