Great balls of fire

Written By: - Date published: 12:27 pm, January 6th, 2010 - 15 comments
Categories: science - Tags:

The Kepler Telescope was launched into space and began transmitting data last year. It’s job is to find evidence of planets outside our solar system, especially Earth-like ones. It is the first telescope that will be able to detect such small planets on orbits in their stars’ habitable zones (where the temperature is right for liquid water). Already Kepler has found five Jovian-class planets and found two objects that are unexpected and unexplained by current astronomic theory. They orbit close to their suns but are several times hotter, despite not being normal stars themselves. They’ve been christened ‘hot companions’:

“The surface temperatures of the hot companions exceed 10,000 Kelvin degrees. Their radii are 0.4 and 0.9 times the radius of Jupiter, which works out to about 4.5 and 10 times the size of Earth. The hot companions have masses less than 0.01 times the Sun’s mass.”*

There are two preliminary theories – old white dwarf stars that are losing their surface to the primary star, and newly formed planets. But stars shouldn’t be that small and light, and they’re rarely that hot. Planets certainly shouldn’t be that hot, they don’t generate enough internal energy.

What if they’re artificial. What if someone made them.

It seems like the perfect explanation for huge but relatively light and, apparently, unnaturally hot objects. If you could build on the scale there are all sorts of things you could do that might look like this. A stellar drive, using gravity and deflected radiation to move a solar system. Or antimatter production to power spaceships. Or a Dyson Sphere. And those are only ideas humans have come up already. A different species, with far more advanced tech might build these super-hot objects for any reason, even ones we can’t imagine, or just for the hell of it.

Yeah, I know, I know. There’s probably a natural explanation. But I just think it would be so cool if we set out to find evidence of Earth-like planets and accidentally stumbled across proof of intelligent life.

Btw, if you’ve ever wondered why it seems they only discover really big planets orbiting really close to their suns its because of the detection methods, not what’s out there. We can detect a planet by the way its gravity makes its star wobble slightly as it orbits – it has to be big, close, and orbiting fast to make a wobble we can see. Or, like Kepler does, we can look for the slight dimming of a star as the planet passes in front – again, big, close, and short orbits is easier to see. So Kepler will be able to detect dimming from Earth-size planets further out from their suns but it takes three orbits to be sure you’ve seen a planet and so far they’ve only been looking for 43 days. With both methods you can only see planets whose orbits are side-on to Earth, so there’s obviously heaps more.

Btw2, you have to laugh, if only not to cry, at the scientific illiteracy of the AP reporter who wrote the first article and is meant to be explaining a scientific discovery to the public. “How hot? Try 14,425 degrees Celsius. That is hot enough to melt lead or iron.” Um, lead will melt on your BBQ. 14,425 degrees will melt Tantalum hafnium carbide, the compound with the highest melting temperature known to humanity. Anything we know about is a plasma at that temperature. And “They are bigger and hotter than planets in our solar system, including dwarf planets” Wow, and are they older than people, including babies?

15 comments on “Great balls of fire”

  1. randal 1

    they better hurry up cause this planet is just about stuffed.
    too many rugged individuals using everything up to externally reference themselves.
    i.e. you can run away with my wife but dont touch my car!

  2. Agree totally on the abysmal standard of the AP piece.

    There’s a much better short summary at Popular Science:

    I’m not sure where the AP got 14000 degrees Celsius; an order of magnitude is a big mistake. It seems the hottest of the new exoplanets (if they are planets) are just under 2000K: that’s still plenty hot.

    And while my bet would be that the “hot companions” are new planets, I agree that it would be amazing-awesome if these things were something someone was building.

  3. tc 3

    The media can’t even get basic finance issues right so when it comes to science TVNZ set the tone.

    Wishart/Morgan being passed off as ‘scientists’ on closeup says it all really and then public funded drivel from Hide being delivered to my door where he claims he knows enough to disagree with the consensus.

    I reckon they should just head up these articles as ” Too hard, no pictures and I failed Year 10 science anyway”… you see our education minister’s in good company in terms of those who just don’t get it.

  4. burt 4

    Well I have identifed one the objects; it is lprent after reading this – No Rise of Airborne Fraction of Carbon Dioxide in Past 150 Years, New Research Finds

    • lprent 4.1

      burt – that is a report that the percentage of CO2 that gets adsorbed in the oceans hasn’t changed. What they are looking for is if the oceans have started reducing their intake of CO2 as the percentage in the oceans.

      It is not, as that scientific illiterate wee johnnie (aka Cameron Slater) thought (and presumably you too), anything to do with the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. What it does to is ease one of the parameters for a possible rapid tipping point, and makes a difference later this century for how fast climate change will proceed.

      It will be built into the models after it has been verified.

      You really are a bit of a blockhead when it comes to most things that involve using your brain….

  5. burt 5

    Oops, that link was obviously poorly formed, sorry about that.

    No Rise of Airborne Fraction of Carbon Dioxide in Past 150 Years, New Research Finds

    • Bill 5.1

      The proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere being constant does nothing to lessen the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the impact that has.

      45% of 2 billion tonnes p/a in 1850 is <1 billion tonnes of airborne CO2 climatic effect.

      45% of 35 billion tonnes p/a in 2009 is <17.5 billion tonnes of airborne CO2 climatic effect.

      That's a massive increase in CO2 and a massive increase in the effect it has…or have I misunderstood something?

      • lprent 5.1.1

        Nope – exactly correct.

        Burt is just being a dumbarse who appears to have only read the headline – and didn’t even understand that.

  6. Rex Widerstrom 6

    What if they’re artificial. What if someone made them.

    And what the **** are we going to do when they drop by and say “take us to your leader”?

    I don’t like the idea of being laughed at by little grey haemaphrodites, damn it.

    • gitmo 6.1

      Best not to attend council meetings then….. let alone political party events.

      • Rex Widerstrom 6.1.1

        Haemaphrodites on local councils?!

        I’m not sure you can make that assumption on the basis of tattooed mascara.

        *whistles as he walks casually away*

  7. Jenny 7

    Fly me to the moon and let me dance among the stars.

    In other words

    Be true.

    In other words

    I love you.

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