This is not a picture of the newly discovered dark planet that consumes too much light to be visible to human observers.
Credit: Yuriy Mazur / Shutterstock
There is a planet the size of Jupiter that strikes a star 466 million light years from Earth, and it could have the color of plums or dying embers or, well .. almost everything else.
Researcher I do not know for sure, because the huge, gaseous world is one of the darkest planets astronomers have ever discovered. According to a new paper appearing on Preprint magazine arXiv on April 1
"Of all the dark planets I could find in literature, this is Top Five," said study author Teo Mocnik, a researcher at Keele University in Staffordshire, England, New Scientist. "I think, Top Three."
(The darkest planet so far is the pitch-black exoplanet TrES 2B or Kepler-1b, about 750 light-years away, absorbing more than 99 percent of the incident light.)
Mocnik and his colleagues did not discover WASP-104b first described in 2014), but they unearthed their impressive darkness after examining the data from the Kepler Space Telescope.
Because they could not see WASP-104b directly, the researchers studied the planet via the transit method, measuring the minute dimming of a distant star as a planet measures in front of it. Other observations – such as the subtle gravitational shaking that WASP-104b inflicts on its host star – helped Mocnik and his colleagues describe the mysterious exoplanet in unprecedented detail. (Their work has yet to be accepted by a journal.)
Planets like WASP-104b are called hot Jupiter, which means they are about as massive as Jupiter, but with a burning twist: hot Jupiter orbits very close their host stars, resulting in scorching surface temperatures. In the case of WASP-104b, the planet is so close to its star that it completes a full orbital rotation every 1.76 days.
In opposite directions, the proximity of the planet to the sun could be the key to the extreme darkness of the world. Like Earth's Moon, WASP-104b is locked, which means that one side of WASP-104b always faces its host star and the other is always turned away. As a result, one side of the planet experiences a permanent day while the other side is trapped in endless night.
The darkness of the night side of the planet is easy to understand. Meanwhile, the daytime side of the planet is probably too saturated with starry radiation that clouds or ice could form, the researchers write. Clouds and ice not only illuminate a planet by reflecting light to the outside, but they can also form a kind of blanket over light-absorbing elements in the atmosphere of the planet.
WASP-104b is said to have a thick, hazy atmosphere of atomic sodium and potassium that can absorb many colors in the visual spectrum.
The result is a planet that absorbs between 97 percent and 99 percent of total incident light. But while WASP-104b appears blacker than coal, it probably has a distinct base color that terrestrial observers simply can not perceive. The incoming solar radiation is likely to make the planet glow – perhaps dark purple like a bruise or red as a glow, said Mocnik New Scientist – but we can not say it from our 466 million light years away.
Originally published on Live Science.