Exoplanet Creates Puzzle for Astronomers

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 19 (UPI) — U.S. astronomers say a gas-giant planet orbiting a distant star has a hot spot like most similar planets seen so far have — except it’s in the wrong place.

Observations made using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope show the planet, named upsilon Andromeda b, orbits tightly around its star, with one side always facing the star’s heat. It belongs to a class of planets termed hot Jupiters, so-called for their scorching temperatures and large, gaseous makeup, a NASA release said.

But the hottest spot on the planet isn’t directly under the sun-facing side as would be expected, they say — it’s shifted almost 90 degrees, off to the side of the planet rather than under the glare of the sun.

“We really didn’t expect to find a hot spot with such a large offset,” astronomer Ian Crossfield says. “It’s clear that we understand even less about the atmospheric energetics of hot Jupiters than we thought we did.”

The researchers aren’t sure how the offset is possible, but theories include supersonic winds triggering shock waves that heat material up, and star-planet magnetic interactions.

But these are just speculation. As more hot Jupiters are examined, astronomers say, they will test new theories.

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