We think of planets as solid, because we’re stood on a solid planet right now (or the houses we’re in are stood on solid ground, or when our aeroplane lands we’ll be on solid ground, or… you get the picture). But researchers from Lehigh University have found a new exoplanet orbiting a bright star which turns out to have the density of styrofoam. A whole planet like a disposable coffee cup?!
KELT-11b is the designation of this planet, and it’s a sub-Saturn sized planet. It actually has a fifth of the total mass of Jupiter, but it’s puffed up to an almost comical size. So far, researchers are still debating how such huge inflated planets come about, because KELT-11b isn’t the only one — it actually has only the third-lowest density of the planets we know.
Study of KELT-11b is going ahead to test out techniques for measuring the amounts of various gases in exoplanet atmospheres.
By the way, KELT stands for ‘Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope’, the telescope the project use, and the whole study involves astronomers all over the world — including citizen scientists!