An artist's depiction of a planet on a star. NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt.
Scientists got a close look at the seasons thanks to a retired NASA telescope.
Researchers used a telescope to film a year on an exoplanet. A year on this world lasts three Earth days. The exoplanet experiences a one-day-long summer and a two-day-long winter within that time.
Lisa Dang, a PhD candidate in astrophysics at the University of Montreal, said during a news conference that seasonal temperature variations were hundreds of times stronger than what we experience on Earth. The research was due to be presented at the meeting that was canceled.
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The concept of seasons is familiar to Earthlings, but it is different on XO-3b. Earth's seasons are caused by the tilt of the planet's axis, but the amount of radiation received is greatly affected by the planet's oval orbit around its star.
Dang said that these seasons are not the same as on Earth.
It is unusual to find a large planet in an ellipse. Because the star and planet are large and close together, their interactions tend to pull the most distant part of the planet's path closer to the star. Scientists think that the star has been around for a long time.
Dang said that the shape of the planet suggests that it is in the middle of migration.
Dang and her colleagues found other surprising characteristics. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is used to detect heat. The scientists expected the signatures to be weak, but they were surprised by the strength of the signatures.
The researchers realized that the unexpected heat couldn't be explained by the planet's wild seasons.
Dang said that the extra heating that was seen with Spitzer wasn't seasonal. The hot Jupiter is heated by the nearby planet star and also by the inside of the planet.
The European Space Agency's mission Gaia has gathered additional observations that suggest the planet is a bit puffed up than expected.
Dang has two theories on how the planet may be generating excess heat. The star's gravity tugs the planet from different angles, stretching and changing it.
The planet isn't actually a planet at all. Dang and her co-authors argue that it could be a star with a pile of hydrogen at its core. A brown dwarf is a class of bodies that are often called failed stars.
"XO-3b might not be a regular planet, but it might be a failed star at the peak of its lifetime as a star," Dang said.
The research is described in a journal.
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