UW Professor And Students Contribute To Discovery Of Very Hot Exoplanet

Jun 9, 2017

This artist's concept shows planet KELT-9b orbiting its host star, KELT-9. It is the hottest gas giant planet discovered so far.
Credit Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A University of Wyoming professor and her students assisted in the discovery of a new, very hot exoplanet. It’s known as KELT-9b and clocks in at more than 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit, just 2,000 degrees cooler than our sun. It is one of, if not the, hottest planets ever discovered, and orbits very closely to its sun.

Hannah Jang-Condell is the assistant professor who led her students to record evidence of the planet at UW’s Red Buttes Observatory. She and her students did not directly help write the study, but contributed their data to, “A Giant Planet Undergoing Extreme Ultraviolet Irradiation By Its Hot Massive Star Host,” which was published in Nature Magazine’s June 5 edition.

Jang-Condell says her students recorded a very slight dimming of that planet’s sun as the planet moved in front of it.

“Actually taking the observations isn’t really that difficult. A well-trained undergraduate can do it pretty easily. The hard part is connecting all this network of collaborators, and so I rely on my connections with people at various other institutions, and then actually analyzing the data and putting it all in context,” she said.

Their observation helped confirm that the planet existed, and they shared it with the rest of the Kilodegree Exoplanet Telescope North Team.

Jang-Condell says our own solar system is like a campfire, and that, unlike this exoplanet, the Earth is at a comfortably warm distance from our “fire,” the sun.

“Now the reason why this planet is so hot is because simply replace the campfire with a bonfire. So the fire is a lot hotter now, plus you’re also a lot closer, even closer than Mercury is to our central star, and so that’s why this planet is so hot,” Jang-Condell said.

She says few planets have been found around massive stars, so this is a big discovery.