The KELT North telescope in southern Arizona carries a lens no more powerful than a high-end digital camera, but it just revealed the existence of two very unusual faraway planets. One is a massive, puffed-up oddity that could change ideas of how solar systems evolve. The other orbits a very bright star, and will allow astronomers to make detailed measurements of the atmospheres of these bizarre worlds.
Astronomers are beginning to suspect that something unusual happens during the evolution of such solar systems that drives massive planets into kinds of close encounters. The presence of a stellar sibling orbiting both of the newly discovered solar systems may be a “smoking gun” clue that past interactions between the planets and these distant siblings is an important part of that process.One planet is located in the constellation Andromeda. Dubbed KELT-1b, it is so massive that it may better be described as a ‘failed star’ rather than a planet. A super hot, super dense ball of metallic hydrogen, KELT-1b is located so close to its star that it whips through an entire “yearly” orbit in a little over a day – all the while being blasted by six thousand times the radiation Earth receives from the sun. The planet appears to have been jostled in the past by a previously unknown distant binary companion star that is orbiting the KELT-1 solar system.
In short, the planet “resets the bar for ‘weird,’“ said Scott Gaudi, an associate professor of astronomy at Ohio State and a member of the research team.* Ohio State University doctoral student Thomas Beatty and Vanderbilt University research scientist Robert Siverd reported these discoveries for the KELT-North team at the American Astronomical Society national meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. Beatty described the newly discovered planets in a news conference on Wednesday, June 13.