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Newly discovered planet is bigger than Jupiter but as light as cotton candy

WASP-193b is the second-lightest planet to be found out of the more than 5,400 planets that astronomers have discovered to date, MIT said.
WASP-193b new planet
Posted at 5:07 PM, May 20, 2024

A group of astronomers recently discovered a massive, cotton candy-like planet orbiting a distant star in the Milky Way.

The “fluffy oddball” of a planet is named WASP-193b and is 50% bigger than Jupiter — but only about a tenth of Jupiter’s density, according to a press release from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“There’s a class of planets called puffy Jupiters, and it’s been a mystery for 15 years now as to what they are. And this is an extreme case of that class,” said lead study author and MIT postdoc Khalid Barkaoui in a statement.

WASP-193b is the second-lightest planet to be found out of the more than 5,400 planets that astronomers have discovered to date, MIT said.

However, it’s one of few planet discoveries that have the researchers stumped on how it was formed because of its unique size and weight combination, according to the article published in Nature Astronomy that outlines the discovery.

The new planet’s name is partially derived from how it was initially spotted — through an international collaboration called the Wide Angle Search for Planets, or WASP.

Barkaoui said it took four years for scientists to gather data on the planet because of how tiny the mass is. It’s believed the planet is mostly made of hydrogen and helium.

“The reason why it’s close to cotton candy is because both are mostly made of light gases rather than solids. The planet is basically super fluffy,” explained Barkaoui.

The coalition of astronomers from MIT and European institutions will continue to study the unique planet using different methods to learn more about its atmosphere and composition.

Ed Dwight

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