NASA’s Kepler satellite, also known as the planet hunter has found a planet that is particularly unusual, TrES-2b holds claim to being the darkest planet ever found. Darker than coal, blacker than black acrylic paint and with a constant temperature of over 1,800 degrees Celsius, she’s as hot as she is dark. Discovered 750 lights years away in the direction of the constellation Draco.
Kepler is our eyes and ears in deep space and with it they are being taken to unimagined new world, now instead of just wondering what’s out there we’re finding its even stranger than we imagined.
“It’s not clear what is responsible for making this planet so extraordinarily dark,” stated co-author David Spiegel of Princeton University. “However, it’s not completely pitch black. It’s so hot that it emits a faint red glow, much like a burning ember or the coils on an electric stove.”
TrES-2b aka Planet Darkness is a gas giant close to the same proportions to our near neighbor Jupiter, which by the way reflects 30% of the light that hits its ammonia based atmosphere. TrES-2b is thought to be locked in a non spinning orbit around its sun ‘GSC 03549-02811’, the planet doesn’t spin at all while it orbits, like our moon. At an extremely close distance from its sun -3 million miles-. TrES-2b faces its sun straight on and takes the hit, Earth by comparison is 93 million miles from our sun, a distance they call the sweet spot as it’s just right for water formation on the planet. This is actually Kepler’s target when hunting, Earth sized planets about 93 million miles from a medium-sized star.
The temperature of the planet is so drastically high that normal liquids -H2O and ammonia are common- quickly boiled out of the atmosphere, sodium and potassium are thought to have vaporized and filled the atmosphere in their place. Gaseous titanium dioxide adds to the unusual soup of light absorbing materials adding to the planes darkness. Even with all of this the scientists still can’t completely explain the almost total lack of reflective light from TrES-2b, it reflects only 1% of the light that hits it, absorbing the other 99%. This just adds to the luster of the mystery.
The Kepler satellite focused its photo detectors through 750 light years –1 light years = 6 trillion miles, 10 trillion kilometers- of space to find TrES-2b, an impressive feat. Kepler has detected 1200 planets Earth like planets -candidates- in its field of vision of the sky, we can look forward to more details on the candidates over next few years. The eyes of Kepler are a photo detector that looks for the twinkle of stars. It monitors 145,000 stars simultaneously and is able to detect even the faintest variation in brightness, detecting the dimming of a star when one its planets gets in the way, between the sun and camera. Even the limited area of the Milky Way that Kepler is pointed at contains billions of stars, we are only now just learning how varied planets are, for thousands of years we only had a handful of planet examples to discover, now that our vision stretches past the edge of our solar system we are finding many different takes on what a planet is.
A curiosity and mystery TrES-2b is Kepler’s latest discovery in the search for Earth like planets, deep space it seems is full of curiosities and fascinating new worlds to discover. This is a planetary haunted house, just its imposing nature captures our imagination. Kepler is opening our eye’s to the worlds out there, don’t worry about the non-reality based Drakes equation, Kepler is out their hunting while Drake was making educated guesses, there is nothing like real world evidence, hard numbers.
Further information at the Centre for Astrophysics
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