Scientists have recently made a couple of important discoveries involving two different planets – an “ultrahot Neptune” and a “Pi Planet”.
First, we’ll take a look at the “ultrahot Neptune” that astronomers found while they were analyzing a star called LTT 9779 with NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). They described the newly discovered exoplanet as being the first known of its kind. The large planet (about 4.7 times larger than Earth and 29 times its mass) is extremely close to its hot star as its orbit is about 60 times closer than the distance of Earth orbiting our sun. In fact, it completes a full orbit around its star in just 19 hours. The planet has been named LTT 9779 b and is located approximately 260 light-years away from us.
Since it orbits so close to its star, it has been called “ultrahot” with temperatures as high as 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,700 degrees Celsius). Surprisingly, it still has a thick atmosphere which may indicate that it was once much bigger, perhaps the size of Jupiter but got smaller when it moved closer to the star. Their research was published in the journal Nature Astronomy and can be read in full here.
Now, onto the second planet that has been discovered, scientists have found an Earth-size exoplanet that orbits its host star every 3.14 days – earning it the fun nickname of the “Pi Planet” in reference to the famous math constant pi. The planet’s actual name is K2-315b and it orbits a dwarf star that’s located approximately 186 light-years from Earth. It was first noticed back in 2017 during the extended K2 mission of NASA’s Kepler space telescope but was only recently confirmed when scientists gathered extra data from numerous ground-based telescopes called SPECULOOS (Search for Habitable Planets Eclipsing Ultra-cool Stars).
It has been estimated that K2-315b is approximately 95% as wide as Earth and it could possibly be a rocky world, although its mass is still unclear. Despite its host star only being about one-fifth of the size of our sun and definitely not as hot, the fact that K2-315b orbits at such a close proximity makes it highly unlikely that it could host any type of life as it has an estimated surface temperature of around 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius).
Another interesting fact is that it is the 315th exoplanet that has been discovered by data collected from the K2 mission. Imagine if they would have found it a bit sooner and it would have been 314th exoplanet – an even bigger reason to name it the “Pi Planet”. Their study was published in The Astronomical Journal and can be read in full here.