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Astronomers discover madly whirling exoplanet

Reuters

Scientists have for the first time measured the spin of a planet outside our solar system — a large gas planet located a relatively close 63 light-years from Earth.

They determined that the planet, named Beta Pictoris b, spins faster than any in our solar system, with a rotational velocity at its equator of about 56,000 mph (almost 100,000 kph).

Jupiter, which has the quickest spin in our solar system, whirls at about 29,000 mph (47,000 kph), while Earth spins at about 1,000 mph (1,700 kph). A day on Beta Pictoris b lasts eight hours, compared to 10 hours on Jupiter and 24 hours on Earth.

Scientists have spotted about 1,800 planets beyond our solar system but very little is known about them.

Beta Pictoris b is one of the better understood planets, as one of only about a dozen that have been directly observed rather than found using indirect detection methods.

Beta Pictoris b is big, hot and young. It is about 3,000 times larger than Earth and seven times larger than Jupiter. It is only about 20 million years old, and is still hot from its formation, the scientists said.

Its host star, Beta Pictoris, is approximately twice as large and 10 times as luminous as our sun.

The head-spinning speed at which Beta Pictoris b whirls, the scientists said, lends support to the notion that a planet’s rotational velocity is closely related to its size: the bigger, the faster.

The scientists are hoping in the future to make a global map of the planet, including possible cloud patterns and storms.

The research paper was published in the journal Nature.