An artist’s impression of gas giant planet K2-132b expanding as its host star evolves into a red giant. Image credit: Karen Teramura, UH IfA
Since astronomers first measured the size of an extrasolar planet 17 years ago, they have struggled to answer the question: how did the largest planets get to be so large? Thanks to the recent discovery of twin planets by a University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy team led by graduate student Samuel Grunblatt, we are getting closer to an answer.
Gas giant planets are primarily made out of hydrogen and helium, and are at least four times the diameter of Earth. Gas giant planets that orbit scorchingly close to their host stars are known as “hot Jupiters.” These planets have masses similar to Jupiter and Saturn, but tend to be much larger – some are puffed up to sizes even larger than the smallest stars.
The unusually large sizes of these planets are likely related to heat flowing in and out of their atmospheres, and several theories have been developed to explain this process. “However, since we don’t have millions of years to see how a particular planetary system evolves, planet inflation theories have been difficult ...