Gas Giant Close To Fiery End As KELT-16b Moves Closer To Its Star

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KELT-16b is a gas giant that orbits incredibly close to its star. A year on the planet lasts less than a day on Earth day and this is getting shorter as the planet continues its spiral of death.

A new study has found that KELT-16b started its death spiral about 2 billion years ago and shouldn’t last longer than a few hundred thousand years before it is pulled apart by the star. Whilst that might sound like a long time, it is pretty close in a galactic sense.

So why bother studying a dying planet? Astronomers believe that studying the scorching skies of KELT-16b can give us a clearer idea of how the atmospheres of exoplanets work. This could, in turn, assist us in our efforts to find potentially habitable exoplanets.

We have found that exoplanets across the galaxy can vary massively. We’ve found rocky planets that have a great deal of potential and we’ve found scorching gas giants that have no chance of life; KELT-16b is most definitely the latter. KELT-16b has been studied by the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT), consisting of a telescope in Arizona and another telescope in South Africa. KELT-16b. they found, is 2.75 times Jupiter’s mass and is 1.4 times as wide as Jupiter; so it’s pretty huge.

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We have found plenty of examples of exoplanets that lie within their star’s habitable zone, such as Kepler 186F and the Trappist planets. What we can’t yet see is whether these planets have atmospheres, but we are working on that as we speak.

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“The ultimate goal of such exoatmospheric studies would be to measure the presence of a biomarker molecule. Biomarkers can serve as evidence of biological activity such as photosynthesis. We can study the atmospheres of hot Jupiters right now using current technology and telescopes. As such, hot Jupiters are currently the most valuable ‘laboratories’ for building and refining our understanding of and techniques for observing exoplanetary atmospheres.” – Thomas Oberst – Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.

KELT-16 is the host star of KELT-16b, and is just a bit bigger than the mass of our Sun. It is located around 1,300 light-years from Earth and strangely enough possesses another star in its system, albeit orbiting very far away (286x the distance between Earth and the Sun. So aside from KELT-16b being pretty far away from us, it’s also pretty hot. It orbits extremely close to its star and temperatures are thought to be around about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Coupled with the incredible doses of radiation the planet will be getting hit with, we won’t be visiting any time soon, or ever in fact.

Based on the decaying orbit of KELT-16b, the planet should have once orbited from further away. Gravitational problems were most likely the cause of the planet coming out of alignment and into a death spiral. Within a few hundred thousand years, the planet will be shredded by the gravity of the star.

“Most if not all hot Jupiters are likely to end up being tidally disrupted. For KELT-16b in particular, the researchers have precise details on the age of the system and the way in which it evolved, so they can pinpoint the likely timing of the planet’s death — and it is imminent”  – Keivan Stassun, study co-author and a researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Although we now have many examples of what solar systems can look like, a complete picture requires understanding how often planets don’t survive,” Stassun said. “In other words, we need information about ‘planet mortality’ in order to make complete sense of the planet census.”

The fact that KELT-16b orbits so close to its star means that it passes in front of the star more regularly. Astronomers think they will be able to examine light passing through the atmosphere which could tell us much more about its composition and activity.

“If its temperature cools enough in going from the dayside to the nightside, KELT-16b may have rain showers of titanium oxide and vanadium oxide at sunset,” Oberst said.

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