Star ‘chefs’ cook planets using radiation

Getting a grilling from Gordon Ramsey is nothing compared to the galactic chefs of the Universe.

12th April 2016
Star ‘chefs’ cook planets using radiation (iStock)

It’s said that if you can’t take the heat then get out the kitchen, but that’s easier said than done when your head chef is the sun you’re orbiting. And it’s not just your ego that gets a grilling - it’s your whole atmosphere.

What’s cooking?

In a new study published in Nature Communications, scientists from the University of Birmingham reveal the grilling effect that suns in other solar systems have on their nearby planets.

Using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope and a technique called asteroseismology, which analyses the resonances sent out by stars, the study shows that planets with a rocky core and a gaseous atmosphere close to their star have their atmosphere stripped away by the extreme heat and radiation, causing them to shrink.

“For these planets it is like standing next to a hairdryer turned up to its hottest setting,” says Guy Davies from that University of Birmingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy. “Planets of a certain size that lie close to their stars are likely to have been much larger at the beginning of their lives. Those planets will have looked very different.”

And the main course?

It’s not just shrinking planets out there in the Universe that the findings tell us -  they also help to understand how planets and solar systems developed in general, which includes our Solar System as well.

This study is just the first course in the ‘star kitchen’. Next year NASA will launch its TESS mission with a new type of satellites that will help astronomers to explore more of those toasted planets.

Fortunately, the only grilling happening on this planet will be surrounded by the summery smell of burnt sausages on the BBQ.

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