The 224th American Astronomical Science meeting in Boston has been abuzz with discussion on exoplanets, with many findings indicating that they have some big problems.
Exoplanets are gigantic planets, with some being 17 times larger than Earth. Described as “the Godzilla of Earths” by Dimitar Sasselov, an astronomer at the center and director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, they are currently three being examined by astronomers.
The first two are residents of the Kepler-65 system, a system that has a sun slightly larger than the one Earth orbits around. Unfortunately for the exoplanets orbiting the Kepler-65 sun, the star is about to enter its red giant phase. A red giant phase occurs when a star exhausts its supply of hydrogen in its core, and is beginning its decline. In other words – the star is dying.
The exoplanets, Kepler-65b and Kepler-65c, both orbit extremely close to the star. Kepler-65b takes only 10.5 days to complete a full orbit, while Kepler-65c takes about three weeks. Given the distance from the star, the planets only have 130 million year left and 155 million years left, respectively. At those times, the star will engulf each planet, effectively destroying them.
While the Keper-65 exoplanets seem to be having trouble, a Kepler-10 exoplanet looks like it could support life. Kepler-10c is 2.3 times Earth’s radius and 17 times larger. Although scientists had thought that a planet with a radius at least twice at large as Earth’s would begin to start accumulating gas, that is not thought to be the case with Kepler-10c.
Instead, Kepler-10c is thought to have a radius made up of rocky material. And, because it is 17 times larger than Earth, it has more than enough mass to cling to an atmosphere. This means that it would not be filled with gas, but instead have an atmosphere that could have supported life.
This ‘Godzilla Earth’ is assumed to be a whopping 10 billion year old or older. That is over twice as old as Earth, which is only 4.5 billion years old. Due to its age and size, scientists are completely stumped as to how it was made and how it is still around. However, they believe more planets might still be around that are just as old or older, and will likely find some in the near future.