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'Wobbly Planet' Moves Like Child's Top, Has Erratic Weather

| Feb 04, 2014 04:46 PM EST

A "wobbly" planet recently discovered by NASA's Kepler telescope most likely exhibits erratic weather.

The planet wobbles violently on its spin axis "like a child's top," a NASA news release reported. The tilt in the planet can vary by 30 degrees over 11 years.

Kepler 413-b is about 2,300 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. It exists in a binary star systems, and orbits the orange and red dwarfs once every 66 days. The planet's orbit is at a 2.5 degree tilt which makes it appear to move up and down.

The Kepler telescope spots planets for looking at "blinks" in stars that suggest a planet has passed in front of it.

"Looking at the Kepler data over the course of 1,500 days, we saw three transits in the first 180 days -- one transit every 66 days -- then we had 800 days with no transits at all. After that, we saw five more transits in a row," Veselin Kostov, the principal investigator on the observation. Kostov is affiliated with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, said in the news release. The next orbit visible from Earth is not expected to happen until the year 2020.

The researchers are still working to determine how the planet aligns with its host stars. Possible explanations are other planets or stars in the system that are pulling on Kepler 413-b.

"Presumably there are planets out there like this one that we're not seeing because we're in the unfavorable period," Peter McCullough, a team member with the Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University, said in the news release. "And that's one of the things that Veselin is researching: Is there a silent majority of things that we're not seeing?"

The planet is believed to be too warm for conceivable life because it orbits extremely close to it host stars. 

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