A Jupiter-like Planet Soaking
Digital Art - Illustration
This artist's concept shows a Jupiter-like planet soaking up the scorching rays of its nearby sun. The Spitzer Space Telescope used its heat-seeking infrared eyes to figure out that a gas-giant planet like the one depicted here is two-faced, with one side perpetually in the cold dark, and the other forever blistering under the heat of its star. The illustration portrays how the planet would appear to infrared eyes, showing temperature variations across its surface.The planet, called Upsilon Andromedae b, was first discovered in 1996 around the star Upsilon Andromedae, located 40 light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. This star also has two other planets orbiting farther out.Upsilon Andromedae b is what's known as a hot-Jupiter planet, because it is made of gas like our Jovian giant, and it is hot, due to its tight, 4.6-day-long jaunt around its star. The toasty planet orbits at one-sixth the distance of Mercury from our own sun. It travels in a plane that is seen neither edge- nor face-on from our solar system, but somewhere in between. Scientists do not know how fast Upsilon Andromedae b is spinning on its axis, but they believe that it is tidally locked to its star, just as our locked moon forever hides its dark side from Earth's view.Spitzer observed Upsilon Andromedae b at five points during the planet's trip around its star. The planet's light levels went up or down, as detected by Spitzer, depending on whether the planet's sunlit or dark side was pointed toward Earth. These data indicate that the temperature difference between the two hemispheres of the planet is about 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,550 degrees Fahrenheit).
December 8th, 2011
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