Astronomers have discovered the most unusual planetary orbit ever, given away by a flash of reflected light beamed back by the planet’s atmosphere.
While most planets (including those in our Solar System) have roughly circular orbits, researchers have spotted some exceptions that form an elliptical path around their star. The newly discovered planet HD 20782 has the weirdest one yet: a long, flat ellipse that takes the planet way out into space before it ‘slingshots’ around its star at a very close distance.
Consider the distance between Earth and the Sun, around 149 million km (93 million miles). At the most distant point, HD 20782 and its star are 2.5 times further apart than this – at their closest point, they’re just six-hundredths of the same distance from each other (that’s much closer than Mercury is to the Sun).
Weigh those distances up, and you can begin to see just…
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