Astronomers are calling Kepler-432b a 'maverick' planet because everything about this newly found exoplanet is an extreme, and is unlike anything we've found before.
Above: Illustration of the orbit of Kepler-432b (inner, red) in comparison to the orbit of Mercury around the Sun (outer, orange). Credit: Dr. Sabine Reffert.
This is a giant, dense planet orbiting a red giant star, and the planet has enormous temperature swings throughout its year. In addition to all these extremes, there's another reason you wouldn't want to live on Kepler 432b: its days are numbered.
"In less than 200 million years, Kepler-432b will be swallowed by its continually expanding host star," said Mauricio Ortiz, a PhD student at Heidelberg University who led one of the two studies of the planet. "This might be the reason why we do not find other planets like Kepler-432b – astronomically speaking, their lives are extremely short."
Kepler-432b is one of the densest and massive planets ever found. The planet has six times the mass of Jupiter, but is about the same size. The shape and the size of its orbit are also unusual, as the orbit is very small (52 Earth days) and highly elongated. The elliptical orbit brings Kepler-432b both incredibly close and very far away from its host star.
"During the winter season, the temperature on Kepler-432b is roughly 500 degrees Celsius," said Dr. Sabine Reffert from the Königstuhl observatory, which is part of the Centre for Astronomy. "In the short summer season, it can increase to nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius."
Dr. Davide Gandolfi, also from the Königstuhl observatory, said that the star Kepler-432b is orbiting has already exhausted the nuclear fuel in its core and is gradually expanding. Its radius is already four times that of our Sun and it will get even larger in the future.
While Kepler-432b was previously identified as a transiting planet candidate by the NASA Kepler satellite mission, two research groups of Heidelberg astronomers independently made further observations of this rare planet, acquiring the high-precision measurements needed to determine the planet's mass. Both groups of researchers used the 2.2-metre telescope at Calar Alto Observatory in Andalucía, Spain to collect data. The group from the state observatory also observed Kepler-432b with the Nordic Optical Telescope on La Palma (Canary Islands).
The results of this research were published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Source: University of Heidelberg