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A Newly Discovered 'Puffy Exoplanet' Has A Density Of A Styrofoam

First Posted: May 17, 2017 04:10 AM EDT
NASA KELT 11b
The artist's illustration of KELT-11b, a newly discovered planet that has a density of a styrofoam.
(Photo : Aban Tech/YouTUbe screenshot)

Scientists discovered a new planet in which they called a "puffy exoplanet" and also referred to as KELT-11b that has a density of styrofoam. It orbits a star 320 light-years from the planet Earth. This puffy planet could help scientists in understanding atmospheres that would be useful for evaluating habitable planets in the future.

The study was printed online on The Astronomical Journal with title "KELT-11b: A Highly Inflated Sub-Saturn Exoplanet Transiting the V+8 Subgiant HD 93396." The research was led by Joshua Pepper, astronomer and assistant professor of Physics at Lehigh University, and scientists from Vanderbilt University and Ohio University. It was also collaborated with scientists at universities and observatories and amateur astronomers around the world, according to Phys.org.

Professor Pepper said that it is highly inflated, so that while it is only a fifth as big as Jupiter, the exoplanet is almost 40 percent larger. This makes it about as dense as styrofoam with an extraordinary large atmosphere.

Another unusual thing about this exoplanet besides its density is its host star, which is extremely bright. It is called KELT-11 and in the process of evolving into a red giant. This means it could use its nuclear fuel, fusing hydrogen in a shell outside its core. The scientists speculated that KELT-11b will be swamped by its host star within the next 100 million years. This is because the outer layers of KELT-11 expand to consume the styrofoam-like world, according to Science Alert.

The planet has the massive atmosphere that could deliver opportunities for generating techniques needed to learn the chemicals in the planet's atmosphere. This could aid in assessing habitability in the atmospheres of other planets.

Professor Pepper said that they do not know of any real Earth-like planets or stars for which they could gauge their atmospheres. On the other hand, they expect to determine more in the coming years. He further said that these giant gas planets are the gold standards or testbeds for determining how to gauge the atmosphere of planets. 

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