From University of Colorado Boulder via phys.org: “A giant sizzling planet may be orbiting the star Vega”

U Colorado

From University of Colorado Boulder

via


phys.org

March 8, 2021
Aniel Strain, University of Colorado at Boulder

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Vega is the fifth brightest star-excluding the sun-that can be seen from Earth. Credit: Stephen Rahn via Wikimedia Commons.

Astronomers have discovered new hints of a giant scorching-hot planet orbiting Vega, one of the brightest stars in the night sky.

The research, published this month in The Astrophysical Journal, was led by University of Colorado Boulder student Spencer Hurt, an undergraduate in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences.

It focuses on an iconic and relatively young star, Vega, which is part of the constellation Lyra and has a mass twice that of our own sun. This celestial body sits just 25 light-years, or about 150 trillion miles, from Earth—pretty close, astronomically speaking.

Scientists can also see Vega with telescopes even when it’s light out, which makes it a prime candidate for research, said study coauthor Samuel Quinn.

“It’s bright enough that you can observe it at twilight when other stars are getting washed out by sunlight,” said Quinn, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics(CfA)(US).

Despite the star’s fame researchers have yet to find a single planet in orbit around Vega. That might be about to change: Drawing on a decade of observations from the ground, Hurt, Quinn and their colleagues unearthed a curious signal that could be the star’s first-known world.

If the team’s findings bear out the alien planet would orbit so close to Vega that its years would last less than two-and-a-half Earth days. (Mercury, in contrast, takes 88 days to circle the sun). This candidate planet could also rank as the second hottest world known to science—with surface temperatures averaging a searing 5,390 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hurt said the group’s research also helps to narrow down where other, exotic worlds might be hiding in Vega’s neighborhood.

“This is a massive system, much larger than our own solar system,” Hurt said. “There could be other planets throughout that system. It’s just a matter of whether we can detect them.”

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Artist’s depiction of a planet named KELT-9b, currently the hottest known exoplanet, which may resemble a candidate world in orbit around Vega. Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Youthful energy

Quinn would like to try. Scientists have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets, or planets beyond Earth’s solar system, to date. Few of those, however, circle stars that are as bright or as close to Earth as Vega. That means that, if there are planets around the star, scientists could get a really detailed look at them.

There’s just one catch: Vega is what scientists call an A-type star, the name for objects that tend to be bigger, younger and much faster-spinning than our own sun. Vega, for example, rotates around its axis once every 16 hours—much faster than the sun with a rotational period that clocks in at 27 Earth days. Such a lightning-fast pace, Quinn said, can make it difficult for scientists to collect precise data on the star’s motion and, by extension, any planets in orbit around it.

To take on that game of celestial hide-and-seek, he and colleagues pored through roughly 10 years of data on Vega collected by the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona.

CfA Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory(US) , located near Amado, Arizona on the slopes of Mount Hopkins, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft)


In particular, the team was looking for a tell-tale signal of an alien planet—a slight jiggle in the star’s velocity.

Radial Velocity Method-Las Cumbres Observatory, a network of astronomical observatories, located at both northern and southern hemisphere sites distributed in longitude around the Earth.


Radial velocity Image via SuperWasp http http://www.superwasp.org-exoplanets.htm

“If you have a planet around a star, it can tug on the star, causing it to wobble back and forth,” Quinn said.

Hot and puffy

The search may have paid off, said Hurt, who began the study as a summer research fellow working for Quinn at the CfA. The team discovered a signal that indicates that Vega might host what astronomers call a “hot Neptune” or maybe a “hot Jupiter.”

“It would be at least the size of Neptune, potentially as big as Jupiter and would be closer to Vega than Mercury is to the sun,” Hurt said.

That close to Vega, he added, the candidate world might puff up like a balloon, and even iron would melt into gas in its atmosphere.

The researchers have a lot more work to do before they can definitively say that they’ve discovered this sizzling planet. Hurt noted that the easiest way to look for it might be to scan the stellar system directly to look for light emitted from the hot, bright planet.

For now, the student is excited to see his hard work reflected in the constellations: “Whenever I get to go outside and look at the night sky and see Vega, I say ‘Hey, I know that star.”

See the full article here .

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As the flagship university of the state of Colorado University of Colorado Boulder(US), founded in 1876, five months before Colorado became a state. It is a dynamic community of scholars and learners situated on one of the most spectacular college campuses in the country, and is classified as an R1 University, meaning that it engages in a very high level of research activity. As one of 34 U.S. public institutions belonging to the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), a selective group of major research universities in North America, – and the only member in the Rocky Mountain region – we have a proud tradition of academic excellence, with five Nobel laureates and more than 50 members of prestigious academic academies.

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In 2015, the university comprised nine colleges and schools and offered over 150 academic programs and enrolled almost 17,000 students. Five Nobel Laureates, nine MacArthur Fellows, and 20 astronauts have been affiliated with CU Boulder as students; researchers; or faculty members in its history. In 2010, the university received nearly $454 million in sponsored research to fund programs like the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and JILA. CU Boulder has been called a Public Ivy, a group of publicly funded universities considered as providing a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League.

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On March 14, 1876, the Colorado territorial legislature passed an amendment to the state constitution that provided money for the establishment of the University of Colorado in Boulder, the Colorado School of Mines(US) in Golden, and the Colorado State University (US) – College of Agricultural Sciences in Fort Collins.

Two cities competed for the site of the University of Colorado: Boulder and Cañon City. The consolation prize for the losing city was to be home of the new Colorado State Prison. Cañon City was at a disadvantage as it was already the home of the Colorado Territorial Prison. (There are now six prisons in the Cañon City area.)

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CU hired its first female professor, Mary Rippon, in 1878. It hired its first African-American professor, Charles H. Nilon, in 1956, and its first African-American librarian, Mildred Nilon, in 1962. Its first African American female graduate, Lucile Berkeley Buchanan, received her degree in 1918.

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The Institute for Behavioral Genetics (IBG) is a research institute within the Graduate School dedicated to conducting and facilitating research on the genetic and environmental bases of individual differences in behavior. After its founding in 1967 IBG led the resurging interest in genetic influences on behavior. IBG was the first post-World War II research institute dedicated to research in behavioral genetics. IBG remains one of the top research facilities for research in behavioral genetics, including human behavioral genetics, psychiatric genetics, quantitative genetics, statistical genetics, and animal behavioral genetics.

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In addition to IBG, ICS and ATLAS, the university’s other institutes include Biofrontiers Institute, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Institute of Arctic & Alpine Research (INSTAAR), Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS), JILA, Laboratory for Atmospheric & Space Physics (LASP), Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), and the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History.