Astronomers baffled by ‘marshmallow’ planet with unusually low density

(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers at the Kitt Peak National Observatory spotted a special gas giant exoplanet about 580 light-years away with the density of a marshmallow. It turns out that this could be the lowest density planet found to date.

Interestingly, the planet TOI-3757b is also fairly fried, as it wraps tightly around a nearby red dwarf star. Red dwarfs are small stars whose cores are still undergoing nuclear fusion reactions.

They take on a distinctive red color due to their relatively cool surface temperatures compared to other stars such as our Sun.

However, due to how volatile their surface is, the formation of a gas planet orbiting a red dwarf is an unusual event, as destructive events such as solar flares can easily destroy a planet’s atmosphere.

It has traditionally been thought that giant planets around red dwarf stars form with great difficulty.

So far, this has only been considered with small samples from Doppler surveys, which have tended to find giant planets beyond these red dwarf stars.

Shubham Kanodia, a research fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Science, said in a press release.

The mysterious origin of the marshmallow planet

Kanodia and his team have several ideas about how this planet formed. They believe that the star’s lower abundance of heavy elements may indicate that the core may have formed more slowly, trapping gas compounds in the newborn star and therefore reducing its density in the long term.

But it can also be a consequence of an unstable orbit. Astronomers believe that the orbit of the gas giant is somewhat elliptical.

This means that at certain moments it flies too close to its Sun, which is why it overheats and expands, while resembling a burnt marshmallow.

James Webb enters action

For further observations, astronomers hope to be able to point NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope at the rarefied planet and other such exoplanets.

Scientists plan to find more such systems with giant planets once thought rare around red dwarfs, and to understand how such cosmic bodies are formed.


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