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The size of subgiant K2-39 and its exoplanet, shown relative to the size of the sun. The distance between K2-39 and its planet is also indicated, relative to the distance of the sun to Mercury. The Earth is not shown on this figure, because it is more than two times further away than Mercury. Credit: Vincent Van Eylen/Aarhus University
June 23, 2016 by Tomasz Nowakowski
(Phys.org)—An international team of astronomers has reported the discovery of a new giant extrasolar planet orbiting a subgiant star so closely that it should be destroyed due to tidal interactions. However, against all odds, the planet has survived and is the shortest-period alien world orbiting a subgiant star known to date. The findings were reported in a paper published on May 31 on arXiv.org.
The planet, designated K2-39b, was first spotted by NASA's prolonged Kepler mission, known as K2. To confirm the planetary status of K2-39b, the team of researchers, led by Vincent Van Eylen of the Aarhus University in Denmark, has employed the High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) spectrograph on the ESO 3.6m telescope in La Silla, Chile, the Nordic Optical Telescope in La Palma, Canary Islands, as well as the Magellan II telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.
The ground-based follow-up measurements were crucial to confirm that the newly found object was, indeed, a genuine exoplanet. The scientists conducted the so-called radial velocity measurements to measure the movement of the star caused by the planet. They clearly confirmed that the planet was indeed real, and also allowed the team to determine its mass. According to the study, K2-39b is 50 times more massive than our planet and has a radius of about eight Earth radii.
However, what is most intriguing about the new findings is that the planet is orbiting its evolved subgiant host star every 4.6 days, and so closely that it should be tidally destroyed.
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