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Artist's impression of an exoplanet. Photo: University of Warwick/Mark Garlick

For the first time, scientists have found the core of a dead planet orbiting a star 730 light-years from Earth.

Why it matters: Our solar system only has a few types of planets by comparison to the diversity of worlds out there orbiting other stars. Finding this bizarre world adds to that tapestry — and opens up new avenues for discovery.

Details: A study about the newfound planet — named TOI 849 b — reveals the odd, Neptune-sized world orbits its star once every 18 hours and its surface temperature clocks in at an extreme 2,732°F.

  • "The planet is strangely close to its star, considering its mass," David Armstrong, one of the authors of the new Nature study said in a statement.
  • The planet's strange composition is what gave scientists the hint that the world is likely the core of what could have been a much larger gas giant.
  • The authors of the study found that TOI 849 b has only a small amount of hydrogen and helium and it's incredibly dense at 40 times heavier than the Earth with a radius 3.4 times that of our planet.
  • According to current models of planetary formation, a planet that massive would have sucked up much more helium and hydrogen than is present now, the study says.

The intrigue: The scientists are confident this world is a dead core of a planet, but they're less sure about how it came to be.

  • The paper's authors suggest the planet may have once been like Jupiter but lost its atmosphere through a possible collision with another world or tidal forces that disrupted the planet due to its close proximity to its star.
  • It's also possible at least some of the planet's atmosphere evaporated because of its close-in orbit.
  • The alien world might also represent a "failed" gas planet where the gas that usually would have been slurped up by the core wasn't available during planet formation.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Oct 13, 2020 - Science

Earth-watching satellites come of age

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Constellations of Earth-gazing satellites are giving new and growing markets an unprecedented view — and understanding — of the planet.

Why it matters: The Earth observation market was once focused on collecting huge amounts of raw data, but companies are now working to pull in revenue by creating tools to analyze that information for customers.

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
7 hours ago - World

China's economy grows 6.5% in Q4 as country rebounds from coronavirus

A technician installs and checks service robots to be be used for food and medicine delivery in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sunday. Photo: Hu Xuejun/VCG via Getty Images

China's economy grew at a 6.5% pace in the final quarter of 2020, the national statistics bureau announced Monday local time, topping off a year in which it grew in three of four quarters and by 2.3% in total.

Why it matters: No other major economy managed positive growth in 2020. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in China, the country got the virus under control and became one of the main positive drivers of the global economy even as the rest of the world was largely under lockdown.