Move over, comets, there's a new contender for the longest celestial ponytail in town – and it's not even a comet, but a planet! Researchers have revealed WASP-69b, a Jupiter-sized exoplanet residing about 257,542,850,000,000 kilometres away, boasting a tail of helium gas stretching an impressive 563,270 kilometres.
This tail makes the Nile River seem like a puddle in comparison, surpassing the 384,400-kilometer distance between Earth and the Moon. The culprit behind this impressive appendage? The fierce heat of WASP-69b's sun-hugging orbit.
Whipping around its star in just 3.9 days, the planet endures scorching temperatures that vaporize its atmosphere, particularly the lighter helium gas. This escaping gas forms the wispy, extended tail, offering a fascinating glimpse into the dynamic and violent processes occurring on WASP-69b.
Observing such a faint plume across interstellar distances required a powerful tool, and that's where the Keck Observatory in Hawaii comes in. Its 9.1-meter mirror and advanced instruments like NIRSPEC allowed the team to capture faint light signatures and unravel the secrets of WASP-69b's tail.
This discovery not only paints a vivid picture of the planet's harsh environment but also contributes to our understanding of exoplanet dynamics. With over 5,560 confirmed exoplanets and thousands more candidates waiting in the wings, the universe is clearly teeming with diverse and surprising worlds.
You’ve come this far…
Why not venture a little further into A.S.S. - our exclusive Australian Space Society.
And keep thrusting Australia into the deep unknown…