• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 10:24pm
NewsWorld
SPACE

Really want to go for a spin? Try planet Beta Pictoris b

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 1:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 May, 2014, 2:42am
 

Are you the type of person who gets dizzy just watching a merry-go-round go round and round? If so, don't plan a visit to the planet known as Beta Pictoris b. The thing spins like mad.

Scientists say that for the first time, they have measured the spin of a planet outside our solar system - a large gas planet located a relatively close 63 light years from earth.

They determined that the planet spins faster than any in our solar system, with a rotational velocity at its equator of about 100,000km/h.

Jupiter, a large gas planet that has the quickest spin in our solar system, whirls at about 47,000km/h, while earth spins at about 1,700km/h. A day on Beta Pictoris b lasts only eight hours, compared to 10 hours for Jupiter and 24 hours for earth.

Scientists have spotted about 1,800 planets beyond our solar system, but very little is known about these distant worlds, including the basics such as what they are made of and how they travel around their stars.

"Only if we know more about other planets - like temperatures, atmosphere and rotation - can we tell how unique our home in the universe really is," said one of the researchers, Bernhard Brandl, an astronomy professor at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

Beta Pictoris b is big, hot and young. It is about 3,000 times more massive than earth and seven times more massive than Jupiter, our solar system's largest planet. It is only about 20 million years old, compared to about 4.5 billion years for earth, and is still hot from its formation, the scientists said.

The head-spinning speed at which Beta Pictoris b whirls, the scientists said, lends support to the notion that a planet's rotational velocity is closely related to its size: thus, the bigger, the faster.

"Yes, the relation between mass and spin velocity was already known in our solar system," said another of the researchers, Ignas Snellen, astronomy professor at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. "We now extend it to a more massive planet to see that the relation still holds. We need to observe more planets to confirm this is really a universal law."

The technique the scientists used to measure the planet's spin was based on the Doppler effect, the phenomenon people notice when they hear a change in the pitch of an ambulance siren when the vehicle whizzes by.

"When we observe a rotating planet, the light from one half, which is approaching us, has a slightly different frequency, or colour, than the other half, which is receding from us. The relative difference in colour, or frequency, between the two halves is a measure of the spin-rotation velocity," Brandl said.

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