One of the strangest planets out there has been found by astronomers. This planet is so dark; astronomers say it absorbs nearly all the light that hits it through a dense layer of haze. The mysterious world has been compared to charcoal and is one of the darkest worlds ever discovered.
At 466 light years from Earth, astronomers have found or discovered one of the darkest worlds discovered in the observable universe so far. Called WASP-104b, it is one of the darkest planets out there. The mystery world is a gas giant, the size of our Jupiter, and orbits its star once every 1.75 days.
But unlike Jupiter, which is very far from the Sun, this giant world is so close to its own star that the intense radiation emitted by the star has completely “swept” its atmosphere and clouds, allowing elements such as sodium and potassium to emerge to the misty and fiery surface (more than 1,200 degrees Celsius) that surrounds the sinister planet. Just like most hot Jupiter’s, WASP-104b is tidally locked, meaning one side always faces its star.
It turns out that both sodium and potassium are capable of absorbing up to 99 percent of the light that reflects the surface of WASP-104b, allowing scientists to include the ‘Dark Jupiter’ in a short list that makes up the category of “dark planets” that scientists have ever discovered.
Keele University researchers from the UK explored the gas giant’s incredible light-absorbing characteristics in a scientific paper uploaded to the academic preprint server, arXiv.
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“From all the dark planets I could find in the literature, this is top five-ish,” lead researcher and astrophysicist Teo Mocnik told New Scientist. “I think top three.”
But, if the planet is so dark and so far away, how was it found?
How do you find a planet that absorbs nearly 99% of the light?
The planet was found using its shadow.
When a planet crosses in front of its star (what in Astronomy is called “transit”), it hides a small part of its light, revealing its presence to observers on Earth. WASP-104b was discovered in 2014 as part of the Wide-Angle Search for Planets project (WASP, hence its name), but at the time it seemed that it was a fairly typical hot gas giant.
WASP-104b was one planet that stood out among the others by the speed of its orbit, higher than the rest of the giant planets in the category of “hot Jupiter’s”, which are also characterized by being able to orbit their star in a matter of days. However, at that time, it wasn’t possible to discover anything else about it that would give away a clue about its appearance.
Years later, the Kepler Space Telescope managed to identify it as part of a rarer subgroup of hot Jupiter’s. One composed of planets that absorb much more light than they reflect. It was then that astronomers realized that WASP-104b could be, even, the darkest world ever seen until that moment.
Kepler repeatedly recorded the period before and after its transit, a technique that can shed clues about the planet itself, including the amount of light reflected in it: and the answer was … practically none. So far, the darkest planet out there is another hot Jupiter called TrES-2b, which is believed to reflect as little as 0.1 percent of the light that hits it.
However, TrES-2b‘s title may be challenged as astronomers continue researching WASP-104b. Experts say it could be that WASP-104b has a real potential to challenge for that title.