Carnival mirrors and “normal” planets

Carnival mirrors.  They make you look…. different.  Here’s what my son Zack looks like with one carnival-mirror effect on my computer. If every planet we saw was reflected in carnival mirrors, how would we figure out what the planets really look like?  It turns out this is how it actually works!  Every time we detect…

HD 80606: a gas giant on a super-eccentric orbit

Hot Jupiters: check.  Super-Earths and mini-Neptunes: check. Up next is another unusual class of planet.  But what is different is not these planets’ physical properties but the shapes of their orbits. Time to get technical.  An orbit is the path a planet follows around its star.  The simplest orbit is a circle with the star…

Hot Super-Earths (and mini-Neptunes)!

It’s official: you are weird.  It’s nothing personal, you can’t help it.  You live in a weird Solar System.  It’s just not like other planetary systems.  It’s just not SUPER enough…. Most Sun-like stars have a planet orbiting close-by.  Not a hot Jupiter — those are rare.  Planets just a little bigger than Earth are…

Wasp-12b: a hot Jupiter

Let’s meet a planet called WASP-12b.  [Before you ask, extra-solar planets are named based on how they were discovered or their catalog number.  Wasp-12b is the twelfth found by the WASP (“Wide Angle Search for Planets”) survey.  The “b” indicates that the object is a companion; Wasp-12 itself is the planet-hosting star.] WASP-12b is a…