Exotic Planet and New Ring Around Saturn Discovered
September 28, 2006 -- Astrophysicists recently found a planet with a radius larger than can be explained by current planetary theory. In addition, scientists studying Saturn have reported finding a new ring, one that can only be viewed by satellite because it is too faint to be seen from Earth.
Scientists spotted the new planet, HAT-P-1b, by observing the dimming of its host star as the planet crossed in front of it. The planet's mass, half that of Jupiter, was calculated based on its gravitational pull on the star. However, the planet's radius is 24 percent larger than current theory can explain, given the planet's mass. This is the second inexplicably "puffed up" planet astronomers have found.
Saturn’s new ring was probably created from debris produced when meteoroids hit two of the planet's moons, Epimetheus and Janus. The Cassini spacecraft viewed the new ring thanks to unusual circumstances; its orbit put Saturn directly between the craft and the sun, illuminating the dust-sized particles in Saturn’s rings that are unobservable from Earth.
A number of National Research Council reports highlight planetary exploration and research in space science. Failed Stars and Super Planets: A Report Based on the January 1998 Workshop on Substellar-Mass Objects discusses the various methods for detecting planets in other star systems and recommends that increased attention be paid to the method that ultimately led to the discovery of HAT-P-1b. New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy prioritizes missions--including the Cassini-Huygens mission and research on the origin and evolution of giant planets such as Saturn -- to create a concrete strategy to answer the “profound questions about our origins and our future.”