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60-Second Space

Wacky World Wobbles Wildly

Exoplanet Kepler 413 b's tilt can vary by as much as 30 degrees over 11 years, leading to extremely erratic seasons. Clara Moskowitz reports 

 

If your local weather has been a pain lately, take heart—it could be a lot worse. On an exoplanet found by NASA's Kepler satellite, the weather is downright bizarre. Seasons change in moments because the planet's tilt axis wobbles like a top.
 
The planet, called Kepler 413 b, orbits extremely close around a pair of binary stars. Its tilt can vary by as much as 30 degrees over 11 years, leading to extremely erratic seasons. Earth's tilt hasn't changed that much over the last 26,000 years.
 
What's more, the planet's entire orbit around its stars wobbles and bobs. In contrast, the planets in most systems we see stick to a relatively flat plane. Astronomers don't know the source of this planet's oddities. But they suspect that a hidden companion planet or even another nearby star may giving it a tug. [Veselin B. Kostov et al., Kepler 413 b: a slightly misaligned, Neptune-size transiting circumbinary planet, at arXiv.org, in press at Astrophysical Journal]
 
The resulting wacky weather on Kepler 413 b would make living there truly unpleasant, if it were even possible. Of course, its gaseous nature makes the planet uninhabitable—which is probably for the best.

—Clara Moskowitz

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
 

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