A new survey found planets skimming a star’s surface

These candidates could be among the closest planets to their stars discovered so far.
By | Published: October 9, 2013 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
artist's impression of exoplanet Corot-7b
The exoplanet Corot-7b is so close to its Sun-like host star that it must experience extreme conditions. This planet has a mass five times that of Earth’s and is in fact the closest known exoplanet to its host star, which also makes it the fastest. The probable temperature on its “day-face” is above 2000° degrees, but –200° on its night face. Theoretical models suggest that the planet may have lava or boiling oceans on its surface. Our artist has provided an impression of how it may look like if it were covered by lava. The sister planet, Corot-7c, is seen in the distance.
ESO/L. Calcada
A new planet-hunting survey has revealed planetary candidates with orbital periods as short as four hours and so close to their host stars that they are nearly skimming the stellar surface. If confirmed, these candidates would be among the closest planets to their stars discovered so far.

Most gas giant exoplanets with orbital periods less than or equal to a few days are unstable. This is due to decay in their orbits caused by the effects of their star’s proximity. For rocky or icy planets, this disruption could bring them close enough to the star that the force of their own gravity can no longer hold them together in the face of the star’s gravity.

Motivated by these considerations, Brian Jackson of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism and his team conducted a search for short-period transiting objects in the publicly available Kepler data set. Their preliminary survey revealed about a half-dozen planetary candidates, all with periods less than 12 hours. Even with masses of only a few times that of Earth, the short periods mean they might be detectable by currently operating ground-based facilities.

If confirmed, these planets would be among the shortest-period planets ever discovered, and if common, such planets would be particularly amenable to discovery by the planned TESS mission, which will look for, among other things, short-period rocky planets.