Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Super-dense alien planet could be entirely new type

Mysterious dense "super-earths" discovered by Kepler could be the "fossil cores" of wandering ice giants.

Among the most mysterious finds of NASA’s Kepler space mission to find exoplanets are bodies too heavy for their size. In some cases, planets the size of Earth are denser than pure iron, according to a report in the journal Nature.
No standard theories about planet formation could explain such dense bodies. “There is no way to explain that in the Solar System,” says Olivier Grasset, a geophysicist at the University of Nantes in France.
But scientists believe these planets could be the "fossil cores" of ice giants similar to Neptune that veered too close to their suns, according to research presented this week at a meeting on exoplanets at the Royal Society in London. These cores would have formed under the intense pressure of their outer layers -- 5 million times the atmospheric pressure on Earth - and temperatures up to 6,000 kelvin.

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