Newly discovered “cotton candy” planets may have rings

Hyperaxion Mar 4, 2020

Researchers measured the radius of the exoplanets during their movement around the host star and concluded that some of them may have rings.

In December 2019, astronomers confirmed the existence of extremely low-density exoplanets, called “cotton candy”. Now, new research published in The Astronomical Journal reveals these celestial bodies may have rings.

Cotton candy

Newly discovered cotton candy planets may have rings
Newly discovered “cotton candy” planets may have rings. (Credit: Carnegie Institution for Science).

The “cotton candy” planets are notable for having a large radius in relation to their masses, which would give them very low densities.

However, because they are different from any other planets in the Solar System, they defy astronomical studies. “We thought: what if these planets are not like cotton candy? What if they look so big because they are surrounded by rings?”, Said in a note, Anthony Piro, one of the research authors, from the Carnegie Institute for Science in the United States.

Methodology

To conduct the study, Piro teamed up with scientist Shreyas Vissapragada, from the Caltech Institute, and simulated how an exoplanet with rings would appear to an astronomer, in addition to investigating the composition of these structures.

Read more: Scientists find extraterrestrial protein in meteorite

The radius of the exoplanets is measured when they pass in front of the host star, which causes the light from the exoplanet to be blocked. The more light is blocked, the larger the exoplanet. “These planets tend to orbit close to the host stars, which means that the rings would have to be rocky, not icy,” explained Piro.

We will have to wait for the James Webb Space Telescope

According to the research, some of the planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission possibly fit the theory: Kepler 87c, 177c and HIP 41378f. But that can only be confirmed when the James Webb Space Telescope is launched in 2021.

Today’s terrestrial and space telescopes lack the precision needed to confirm the presence of rings around these distant worlds.

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