Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Scientists Discover Largest-Known Planet

Anybody who grew up in the 60's was a space-freak. I'll never forget waiting up to actually hear that man had walked on the moon! It was exciting times when the future was going to be like an episode of The Jetsons or Lost in Space.

"TrES-4 is the largest known exoplanet," said Georgi Mandushev, Lowell Observatory astronomer and the lead author of the paper announcing the discovery. "It is about 70 percent bigger than Jupiter, the Solar System’s largest planet, but less massive, making it a planet of extremely low density. Its mean density is only about 0.2 grams per cubic centimeter, or about the density of balsa wood! And because of the planet’s relatively weak pull on its upper atmosphere, some of the atmosphere probably escapes in a comet-like tail."
TrES-4 is what's called a "puffy planet." These are extremely large bodies with extremely low densities. Why is it that, in space, the bigger something is, the less substance there is to it? Maybe it's a lesson for all of us! I also enjoy the optimism that you can find in pure science.

"TrES-4 appears to be something of a theoretical problem,” said Edward Dunham, Lowell Observatory Instrument Scientist. "It is larger relative to its mass than current models of superheated giant planets can presently explain. Problems are good, though, since we learn new things by solving them."
Read the official Lowell Observatory press release here.

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