- Yessica Avila
In searching for planets beyond our solar system, astronomers have found a giant exoplanet that looks more like a football or rugby ball than a sphere.
The planet, called WASP-103b, is extreme. Located about 1,225 light-years from Earth in the Hercules constellation, the world is almost twice the size of Jupiter.
The planet was first discovered in 2014 and observed using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. Researchers wanted to get another perspective of WASP-103b using CHEOPS, or the joint mission of Switzerland and the European Space Agency's Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, to combine with previous observations.
The satellite, launched in 2019, searches for potentially habitable planets. It detects planets using the transit method or measuring the dips in stellar brightness when a world passes in front of a star.
The researchers suspect the elongated shape is due to the force of massive tides occurring on the planet. On Earth, ocean tides are primarily the result of the moon's gravitational pull. This force causes low and high tides, but nothing dramatic enough to be visible from space.
Astronomers want to probe another mystery about the planet. Typically, a massive planet like this closely orbiting its host star would gradually get closer to the star over time and become engulfed by it. Current measurements seem to suggest that the planet is drifting further away rather than closer into its star.
Future observations can help astronomers uncover more about the planet's internal structure and deformation, as well as any similar exoplanets. Hot Jupiters proved to be expected during the early days of exoplanet detection, but deformed planets are scarce.