Astronomers Discover A Planet That Shouldn’t Exist

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In the vast expanse of the cosmos, astronomers have made a remarkable discovery: a planet that shouldn’t exist.

This planet, officially named Halla, orbits the red giant star Baekdu at only half the distance separating the Earth and the sun.

The Enigma of the Planet That Shouldn’t Exist

The existence of this planet defies our understanding of stellar evolution and planetary survival, making it a fascinating subject of study. This discovery challenges our current theories about the life cycles of stars and the fate of the planets that orbit them.

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The Survival of Halla Against All Odds

The planet that shouldn’t exist, Halla, is a Jupiter-like planet that orbits the red giant star Baekdu. When a star like Baekdu reaches the end of its life, it expands enormously, often engulfing the planets in its vicinity. However, Halla has managed to survive despite the normally perilous evolution of Baekdu.

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This survival is extraordinary, considering that Baekdu had already expanded into a red giant star once before, inflating up to 1.5 times the planet’s orbital distance before shrinking to its current size at only one-tenth of that distance. The survival of Halla raises intriguing questions about the factors that contribute to the survival of planets in such extreme conditions.

The Role of Maunakea Observatories in the Discovery

The discovery of the planet that shouldn’t exist was made possible by the Maunakea Observatories in Hawaiʻi. The team of astronomers, led by Marc Hon, a NASA Hubble Fellow at the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy (UH IfA), used the observatories to confirm the existence of Halla and its nearly circular orbit around Baekdu.

The host star 8 UMi and the active red giant TYC 3542-1885-1 exhibit stellar activity. The chromospheric activity of both stars is calculated using Ca II H and K indices (SHK), derived from Keck/HIRES spectra, with error bars representing 1σ (standard deviation) uncertainties. For each star, variations of SHK with radial velocity are observed. Included in these observations are the Spearman correlation factors (R) and two-sided p-values (p) for the test, the null hypothesis of which is that SHK and radial velocity are uncorrelated. Generalized Lomb Scargle (GLS) periodograms of radial velocity measurements and SHK are also presented. The vertical dashed line represents 8 UMi b’s orbital period, and the horizontal lines indicate the periodogram’s False Alarm Probability (FAP). This information is credited to Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06029-0.

The observations from multiple telescopes on Maunakea were critical in confirming the existence of Halla and raising compelling questions about how the planet actually survived. These observations underscore the importance of advanced astronomical instruments in deepening our understanding of the universe.

Possible Explanations for the Survival of the Planet That Shouldn’t Exist

There are several theories about how Halla managed to survive. One theory is that Halla started on a larger orbit before migrating inward close to Baekdu. However, this origin becomes an extremely unlikely survival pathway for Halla in the face of a rapidly evolving host star. Another theory is that the host star Baekdu may have originally been two stars. A merger of these two stars may have prevented any one of them from expanding sufficiently large enough to engulf the planet. A third possibility is that Halla is a recently-born “second generation” planet, formed from a gas cloud produced by a violent collision between the two stars. Each of these theories offers a unique perspective on the survival of the planet that shouldn’t exist, highlighting the complexity and diversity of planetary systems in the universe.

Implications of the Discovery of the Planet That Shouldn’t Exist

The discovery of the planet that shouldn’t exist has significant implications for our understanding of stellar evolution and planetary formation. It challenges our current theories and opens up new possibilities for the survival and formation of planets in binary star systems. As Marc Hon explained, “Most stars are in binary systems, but we don’t yet fully grasp how planets may form around them. Therefore, it’s plausible that more planets may actually exist around highly evolved stars thanks to binary interactions.”

The discovery of Halla, the planet that shouldn’t exist, is a testament to the wonders of the universe and the endless possibilities it holds. It serves as a reminder of the mysteries that still await us in the cosmos and the importance of continued exploration and research in astronomy.

Research Paper

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