SCIENTISTS have revealed “ploonets” – a cutesy name for a new type of space object they’re desperately hunting for.
There’s still no evidence that ploonets actually exist in the universe, but computer simulations suggest their creation is possible.
2 Scientists think elusive ‘ploonets’ may be lurking in our universeCredit: Getty – Contributor
So what is a ploonet? It starts with a “hot Jupiter” exoplanet: a huge gas giant that orbits close to its star.
Astronomers suspect that these hot Jupiters weren’t born so close to their star.
Instead, it’s possible that they may have migrated inward from a much more distant orbit.
If these hot Jupiters have (or perhaps had) moons, they would be subject to huge gravitational forces from both the planet and the star.
As the hot Jupiter exoplanet moved towards the star, the large moon’s orbit would gain extra energy.
This would push the moon further away from the planet, eventually causing it to escape its orbit completely.
That’s the claim from researchers at Colombia’s University of Antioquia in a paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
These newly-freed moons would then begin orbiting the host star, and effectively become indistinguishable from a typical planet.
Scientists have dubbed these new objects “ploonets”, and suspect that they should be very common.
“This process should happen in every planetary system composed of a giant planet in a very close-in orbit,” said Mario Sucerquia, an astrophysicist who worked on the paper.
“So ploonets should be very frequent.”
What is an exo-planet?Here’s what you need to know…
An exoplanet is a planet that is located outside of our Solar System and one that is orbitting its own star, like how Earth orbits the Sun
They are very hard to see with telescopes because they are often hidden by the brightness of their star
Nasa sent the Kepler space telescope into orbit with the purpose of finding Earth sized exoplanets that might support life
Over 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered so far and more missions to find even more exoplanets are planned
A good way to spot an exoplanet is to look for “wobbly” stars because a disruption to star light can indicate that a planet is orbitting it and therefore blocking out light on occasion
Expoplanets are very common in the Universe and the more we find that look like Earth the closer we get to knowing if we’re not alone out there
But while ploonets sound quite lovely, they’re largely doomed.
Simulations of ploonet creation revealed that 44% of the moons ended up crashing into their planets.
An additional 6% were consumed by their host star.
And 2% of the ploonets were booted out of their planetary system – destined to float through interstellar space forevermore.
The remaining 48% are the ploonets that should technically survive, though we’ve got no proof of any actual ploonets just yet.
However, scientists have suggested that our own Moon could one day become a ploonet in its own right.
“Earth’s tidal strength is gradually pushing the moon away from us at a rate of about 3cm a year,” said Sucerquia, speaking to New Scientist.
“Therefore, the moon is indeed a potential ploonet once is reaches an unstable orbit.”
Nasa announces its latest mission called Dragonfly, which will explore Saturn’s largest moon, Titan
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This week we revealed how the Earth has a “second moon” with a bizarre horseshoe orbit.
Our own Moon is still generating mysteries: last month, scientists discovered a metal structure bigger than Denmark below the lunar surface.
And a recent study revealed the Moon may be shrinking due to drastic changes to its surface.
Do you think ploonets is a good name for these new space objects? Let us know in the comments!
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