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Owlscrying

NASA Finds Hottest Planet Yet Discovered

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May 9

PASADENA, Calif. Researchers using the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-managed Spitzer Space Telescope have learned what the weather is like on two distant, exotic worlds, including the hottest planet yet discovered, NASA announced Wednesday.

One team of astronomers used the infrared telescope to map temperature variations over the surface of a giant, gas planet known as HD 189733b, revealing it likely is whipped by roaring winds. Another team determined that gas planet HD 149026b is the hottest yet discovered.

According to NASA, the two planets are "hot Jupiters" -- sizzling, gas giant planets that zip closely around their stars. Roughly 50 of the more than 200 known planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets, are hot Jupiters.

In one of the new studies, Spitzer set its infrared eyes on HD 189733b, located 60 light-years away in the constellation Vulpecula. HD 189733b is the closest known transiting planet, which means that it crosses in front and behind its star when viewed from Earth. It races around its star every 2.2 days.

"The observations reveal that temperatures on this balmy world are fairly even, ranging from 1,200 F on the dark side to 1,700 F on the sunlit side," according to NASA. "HD 189733b, and all other hot Jupiters, are believed to be tidally locked like our moon, so one side of the planet always faces the star. Since the planet's overall temperature variation is mild, scientists believe winds must be spreading the heat from its permanently sunlit side around to its dark side."

Such winds might rage across the surface at up to 6,000 mph. The jet streams on Earth travel at 200 mph.

"These hot Jupiter exoplanets are blasted by 20,000 times more energy per second than Jupiter," said co-author David Charbonneau, also of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Now we can see how these planets deal with all that energy."

In the second Spitzer study, astronomers led by Joseph Harrington of the University of Central Florida in Orlando discovered that HD 149026b is a scorching 3,700 F, even hotter than some low-mass stars.

"This planet is like a chunk of hot coal in space," Harrington said. "Because this planet is so hot, we believe its heat is not being spread around. The day side is very hot, and the night side is probably much colder."

HD 149026b is located 279 light-years away in the constellation Hercules. It is the smallest and densest known transiting planet, with a size similar to Saturn's and a core suspected to be 70 to 90 times the mass of Earth, according to NASA. It speeds around its star every 2.9 days.

"According to Harrington and his team, the oddball planet probably reflects almost no starlight, instead absorbing all of the heat into its fiery body," NASA reports. "That means HD 149026b might be the blackest planet known, in addition to the hottest."

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Wow, and I thought venus was bad.

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