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Scientists Discover World With an 8-Hour Day
Scientists Discover World With an 8-Hour Day

By Deborah Netburn
May 1, 2014 12:41PM

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Astronomers have measured the length of a day on a planet beyond our own solar system, and it's a fast one. They say one day on Beta Pictoris b takes just eight hours, due to a rotation rate that's more than 50 times faster than Earth's. It is young -- just 20 million years old. It is also hot, shining 10,000 times brighter than Jupiter.

If you think 24 hours isn't enough time to get everything done, here's a little perspective: You could be living on a world with an eight-hour day.

For the first time, scientists have directly observed the spin of a planet outside our solar system, and determined it is spinning at the rate of 62,000 miles per hour.

That's about twice as fast as Jupiter, and more than 50 times as fast as Earth.

(A day is still only 8 hours long because the planet is much bigger than Earth.)

The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The fast-spinning planet is known as Beta Pictoris b. It is young -- just 20 million years old. (The Earth by comparison is 4.5 billion years old). It is also hot, shining 10,000 times brighter than Jupiter.

It was a good candidate for this study because it is just 65 light years from Earth, and because it orbits its host star at about two times the distance between our sun and Jupiter, light from the star does not completely drown out the measurable light from the planet.

To determine how quickly the planet was spinning, a team of Dutch astronomers from Leiden University and the Netherlands Institute for Space Research looked for blue and red shift caused by the Doppler effect in near-infrared spectroscopic observations made using the ESO's Very Large Telescope.

"Using this technique we find that different parts of the planet's surface are moving towards or away from us at different speeds, which can only mean that the planet is rotating around its axis," explained lead author Ignas Snellen in a statement.

In a News and Views article that accompanied the study, Travis Barman of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, said it was not so shocking that this large planet would spin so fast.

"Generally speaking, the Solar System planets show a trend with spin increasing with increasing mass," he wrote.

He added that one day, this fast-spinning planet may spin even faster.

"...Beta Pictoris b is still contracting as it cools and will eventually shrink to a radius comparable to that of Jupiter, leading to an even faster spin when it reaches the age of the Sun," he wrote.

© 2014 Los Angeles Times (CA) under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.

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