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Strange New Planet Baffles Astronomers

The newly discovered world HAT-P-1 has baffled astronomers, since it is puffed up much larger than theory predicts.
by Staff Writers
Boston MA (SPX) Sep 15, 2006
Using a network of small, automated telescopes known as HAT, Smithsonian astronomers have discovered a planet unlike any other known world. This new planet, designated HAT-P-1, orbits one member of a pair of distant stars 450 light-years away in the constellation Lacerta.

"We could be looking at an entirely new class of planets," said Gaspar Bakos, a Hubble fellow at CfA. Bakos designed and built the HAT network and is lead author of a paper submitted to the Astrophysical Journal describing the discovery

With a radius about 1.38 times Jupiter's, HAT-P-1 is the largest known planet. In spite of its huge size, its mass is only half that of Jupiter.

"This planet is about one-quarter the density of water," Bakos said. "In other words, it's lighter than a giant ball of cork! Just like Saturn, it would float in a bathtub if you could find a tub big enough to hold it, but it would float almost three times higher."

HAT-P-1's parent star is one member of a double-star system called ADS 16402 and is visible in binoculars. The two stars are separated by about 1500 times the Earth-Sun distance. The stars are similar to the Sun but slightly younger - about 3.6 billion years old compared to the Sun's age of 4.5 billion years.

Although stranger than any other extrasolar planet found so far, HAT-P-1 is not alone in its low-density status. The first planet ever found to transit its star, HD 209458b, also is puffed up about 20 percent larger than predicted by theory. HAT-P-1 is 24 percent larger than expected.

"Out of eleven known transiting planets, now not one but two are substantially bigger and lower in density than theory predicts," said co-author Robert Noyes (CfA). "We can't dismiss HD209458b as a fluke. This new discovery suggests something could be missing in our theories of how planets form."

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Astronomers Reveal First Exo Planet ID Chart
Boston MA (SPX) Sep 15, 2006
It is only a matter of time before astronomers find an Earth-sized planet orbiting a distant star. When they do, the first questions people will ask are: Is it habitable? And even more importantly, is there life present on it already? For clues to the answers, scientists are looking to their home planet, Earth.







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