Newfound Planet Orbits Backward


Planets orbit stars in the same direction that the stars rotate. They all do. Except one.

A newfound planet orbits the wrong way, backward compared to the rotation of its host star. Its discoverers think a near-collision may have created the retrograde orbit, as it is called.

The star and its planet, WASP-17, are about 1,000 light-years away. The setup was found by the UK's Wide Area Search for Planets (WASP) project in collaboration with Geneva Observatory. The discovery was announced today but has not yet been published in a journal.

"I would have to say this is one of the strangest planets we know about," said Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT who was not involved in the discovery.

What's going on


A star forms when a cloud of gas and dust collapses. Whatever movement the cloud had becomes intensified as it condenses, determining the rotational direction of the star. How planets form is less certain. They are, however, known to develop out of the leftover, typically disk-shaped mass of gas and dust that swirls around a newborn star, so whatever direction that material is moving, which is the direction of the star's rotation, becomes the direction of the planet's orbit.

WASP-17 likely had a close encounter with a larger planet, and the gravitational interaction acted like a slingshot to put WASP-17 on its odd course, the astronomers figure.

"I think it's extremely exciting. It's fascinating that we can study orbits of planets so far away," Seager told SPACE.com. "There's always theory, but there's nothing like an observation to really prove it."

Cosmic collisions are not uncommon. Earth's moon was made when our planet collided with a Mars-sized object, astronomers think. And earlier this week NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence of two planets colliding around a distant, young star. Some moons in our solar system are on retrograde orbits, perhaps at least in some cases because they were flying through space alone and then captured; that's thought to be the case with Neptune's large moon Triton.

The find was made by graduate students David Anderson at Keele University and Amaury Triaud of the Geneva Observatory.

Bloated world

WASP-17 is about half the mass of Jupiter but bloated to twice its size. "This planet is only as dense as expanded polystyrene, 70 times less dense than the planet we're standing on," said professor Coel Hellier of Keele University.

The bloated planet can be explained by a highly elliptical orbit, which brings it close to the star and then far away. Like exaggerated tides on Earth, the tidal effects on WASP-17 heat and stretch the planet, the researchers suggest.

The tides are not a daily affair, however. "Instead it's creating a huge amount of friction on the inside of the planet and generating a lot of energy, which might be making the planet big and puffy," Seager said.

WASP-17 is the 17th extrasolar planet found by the WASP project, which monitors hundreds of thousands of stars, watching for small dips in their light when a planet transits in front of them. NASA's Kepler space observatory is using the same technique to search for Earth-like worlds.
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Has the mystery of the Mars 'Monolith' been solved?



An image of what appears to be a mysterious rocky monument on Mars has excited space junkies around the world.
The 'monolith', was snapped from 165miles away using a special high resolution camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
After being published on the website Lunar Explorer Italia, it set tongues wagging with space buffs questioning whether there was once life on the Red Planet.
How the experts see it: The original HiRISE satellite image supplied to Mail Online by the University of Arizona showing a close up of what appears to be a 'monolith' on Mars

But scientists at the University of Arizona, who captured the original image, reckon it's just an unremarkable boulder, which could measure up to five metres across.

Yisrael Spinoza, a spokesman for the HiRISE department of the university's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, gave Mail Online the original image so readers can make up their own minds.

He said: 'It would be unwise to refer to it as a "monolith" or "structure" because that implies something artificial, like it was put there by someone for example.
'In reality it's more likely that this boulder has been created by breaking away from the bedrock to create a rectangular-shaped feature.'

The image seems to resemble the black monolith that appears during key moments of man's evolution in the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The original image, taken last July, was published again this week on the University of Arizona's HiRISE website on the 'spotlight' page which seems to have led to the renewed interest.
'Is it possible that there used to be an ancient civilization on Mars?' former Montreal radio presenter David Tyler asked on his blog.

'Is it possible that NASA already knows the answer? Could this be the final straw for disclosure
But speaking about the satellite picture scientist Alfred McEwen, the principal investigator from the University of Arizona's HiRISE department, said: 'There are lots of rectangular boulders on Earth and Mars and other planets.
'Layering from rock deposition combined with tectonic fractures creates right-angle planes of weakness such that rectangular blocks tend to weather out and separate from the bedrock.'
Fuel was added to the flames after Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, alluded to a similar monolith detected on Mars' moon Phobos.
Speaking on a U.S. cable television channel last week he said: 'We should visit the moons of Mars.

'There's a monolith there - a very unusual structure on this little potato shaped object that goes around Mars once every seven hours.

'When people find out about that they are going to say, "Who put that there? Who put that there?" Well the universe put it there, or if you choose God put it there.'
In 2007 the Canadian Space Agency funded a study for an unmanned mission to Phobos known as PRIME (Phobos Reconnaissance and International Mars Exploration).

The building-sized monolith is the main proposed landing site but not because scientists suspect UFO activity. They believe the object is a boulder exposed relatively recently in an otherwise featureless area of the asteroid-like moon.
PRIME investigator Dr Alan Hildebrand said it could answer questions about the moon's composition and history.
'If we can get to that object, we likely don’t need to go anywhere else,' he told his science team.
The fact it seems to resemble a rectangular monument could be due to simulacra. This is where humans see familar images in random surroundings such as the famous 'Face of Mars', which is actually just a hilly and cratered area.
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'UFO' photographed 'tracking' RAF Hercules


John Powell, 56, claims an unusual silver orb was following the military craft as it came in to land at the base.

The retired school teacher was gardening at his home in nearby Westbury when he noticed the sun glinting off the circular surface.
"I don't believe in things from outer space but that thing was definitely tracking the plane," he said.

"My neighbour was in the garden at the time and I wanted to shout to them, but I didn't want to say 'there's a flying saucer in the sky' so I didn't say anything in the end."

Mr Powell, who taught computer sciences in Belfast for 30 years, added: "I thought at the time this is too good to miss but I didn't think the picture would come out as good as this.

"If I were to say it was a shot in a million I don't think I'd be exaggerating. I'm desperately curious to find out what it is.

"Since I've taken the photo I've been on some UFO websites and there's nothing remotely like this with an RAF plane being tracked."

The incident happened as John was gardening at 3.45pm on July 22.

RAF Lyneham is the military base where the bodies of fallen British soldiers are flown back into the UK on Hercules planes but there were no repatriations that day.

Ministry of Defence bosses said they would not be investigating because they so not consider it a "potential threat".

A spokesman said: "The MoD examines reports solely to establish whether UK airspace may have been compromised by hostile or unauthorised military activity.

"Unless there is evidence of a potential threat, there is no attempt to identify the nature of each sighting reported."
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UFO five' fly in fab formation


STARGAZER Jason Goldthorpe could not believe his eyes when he saw a cluster of "UFOs" flying in formation "higher than a plane".
Astonished Jason, 37, caught the phenomenon on camera above his house.

He said: "The objects were shining gold in the sky, too high to be balloons, and looking just like I would imagine UFOs to look.
It was around teatime, the sky was clear, and they lingered in the sky for an hour or so, like they were watching us."

Delivery driver Jason, of St Helens, Lancs, said he has spotted the strange objects many times before, but this time decided to film what happened.

The dad-of-two added: "I've seen these objects in the sky for the past four years.

"They always appear at teatime and just on one day, either at the beginning or end of the month.

"Friends have also seen them and I thought it was time the world knew that something is out there."

Jason, who has posted his footage on YouTube, added: "It's as though these objects are watching and studying us. It's all quite eerie really."
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