A Star? Or A Planet?
Stop! You’re Both Right
This time, it’s celestial orbs with split personalities. They can’t decide if they want to be stars or planets. Take this oddity, for example.
Follow-up investigations of the object, named Corot-exo-3b, have revealed it to be quite a curiosity as far as exoplanets are concerned, and some of its characteristics – such as its density of twice that of lead – may force astronomers to rethink the distinction between massive planets and low-mass brown dwarfs.
Hummm? How so?
Corot-exo-3b lies in the shady area of classification between planet and brown dwarf. Brown dwarfs are massive bodies (between about 13 and 80 times the mass of Jupiter) that don’t make the cut for fusing hydrogen in their cores – and thus don’t shine in optical wavelengths – yet are much more massive that what is normally classified as a planet.
Corot-exo-3b is roughly the same size as Jupiter, but far more dense, totaling a whopping 21.6 times Jupiter’s mass. This makes classification of the object a bit tricky.
So this thing is heavy, but in the range of gas-giant planets. There’s more oddness about it. You see, planets are (supposed to be) formed out of the left-over gas and dust that swirls around a star after it is formed. One therefore expects to find planets, especially heavy ones, orbiting their star more or less in the same plane as the star’s equator. Sometimes they get shoved, bounced or jostled out of that plane (Pluto orbits at an inclination that’s off by about 17 degrees), but that’s more likely to happen with smaller bodies. The orbit of Corot-exo-3b is inclined A WHOPPING 70 DEGREES.
Corot-exo-3b orbits at an astounding 70 degrees in relation to the equator of its host star. The team members posit that it could be due to gravitational interaction with another planet – known as planet-planet scattering – or that the planet could have been disrupted by the influence of a close-by star. New Scientist reported that the orbit could have been caused by a collision with another object[.]
Whew! Imagine what it took to do that!