NASA Wants To Solve Hot Jupiter Exoplanet Mystery

One of the mysteries of the universe that NASA really wants to solve has to do with a type of exoplanet called a hot Jupiter. These planets are gas giants like Jupiter in our solar system, only they are much hotter thanks to orbiting very close to their parent stars. Scientist assumed for a long time that our solar system was the norm, but with more and more hot Jupiter planets discovered, it turns out our solar system is the odd ball in the universe.

"We thought our solar system was normal, but that's not so much the case," said astronomer Greg Laughlin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, co-author of a new study from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope that investigates hot Jupiter formation.

The thing scientists want to know is how do these incredibly hot and close orbiting planets from and how exactly did they end up so close to the parent stars. The Spitzer telescope has been eyeing a hot Jupiter known as HD 80606b that is 190 light-years from Earth. This planet has an odd orbit that is almost like the orbit of a comet bringing it very close to the star and then out to much further distances every 111 days. The side facing the planet on its closest approach can reach over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

The exoplanet is believed to be in the process of migrating from an orbit further out in its host solar system to a tighter orbit that is much closer to the parent star and typical of hot Jupiters in general. "This planet is thought to be caught in the act of migrating inward," said Julien de Wit of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, lead author of the new study. "By studying it, we are able to test theories of hot Jupiter formation." The team hopes to determine how long it takes 80606b to migrate from an eccentric to a circular orbit. Observations and research of this exoplanet are ongoing.