Heavy metal planet found: twice as dense as lead and heavier than 20 Jupiters

The European Space Agency’s COROT planet-hunter mission has identified a super-massive, high-density planet that is unlike any other exoplanet yet found. The newly discovered world COROT-exo-3b is a hot giant that circles its star once every four days, making it similar to many other ‘hot Jupiter’ giant planets already found in other star systems. What makes this one unique is its density. Based on its estimated size and mass, COROT-exo-3b would have to be over twice the density of lead. Nothing like this has ever been found before.

Gas giant planets more massive than Jupiter are common, and can range up to about 15 Jupiter masses before they begin to sluggishly fuse hydrogen in their cores to make helium – at which point they are considered brown dwarf stars. Brown dwarfs scale up from there, all the way to red dwarf stars and then ‘normal’ stars. COROT-exo-3b is different. This planet is above the mass threshold for a brown dwarf, but it’s ridiculously small for its mass – about the physical size of Jupiter.

What can COROT-exo-3b be made of? That depends on where it formed originally. It probably didn’t form as close as it is now to its star. Right now it careens around its primary in about 1/22 the time it takes the planet Mercury to complete an orbit around the Sun – which is a slightly smaller star than COROT-exo-3b’s primary. Most likely COROT-exo-3b formed farther out, and later migrated inward. That sort of thing happens. But the high bulk density of COROT-exo-3b suggests it’s not a typical hot Jupiter-type gas giant.

The star orbited by COROT-exo-3b contains roughly the same enrichment of heavy metals as the Sun, according to ESA astronomer Magali Deleuil at the Laboratoire d’astrophysique de Marseille. So how can a planet be that dense? COROT-exo-3b is close to the density of osmium, which at ~22.6 grams per cubic centimeter is the densest metal in the periodic table.

It could be that COROT-exo-3b is simply a giant Mercury; formed mainly of heavy elements having the highest boiling temperatures, as Mercury and the terrestrial planets formed around the Sun. When our inner planets formed they picked up mostly elements that were already condensed from gas to solid particles (rock and metal) before the Sun’s early, violent solar winds swept all the remaining gases out toward Jupiter and beyond. If COROT-exo-3b is a giant Mercury is would mostly be made of metal and rock, compressed by gravity to incredible densities in its seething core. With several Jupiters’ worth of heavy elements, including radioactive uranium, strontium, rubidium and potassium, the interior of COROT-exo-3b would be orders of magnitude hotter than Earth’s core. Heat flow from the interior would produce truly bizarre volcanic activity: cataclysmic eruptions spewing liquid steel in weird, flattened sheets due to the colossal gravity. Oceans of lurid magma, under a crushing atmosphere of… of what, exactly? Metal vapor? Ionized sodium?

The problem here is that to make a single planet out of metal and rock requires far more metal and rock than would be available, at least according to conventional models of solar system development. The planet probably contains all that stuff, but it would have to contain lots of more basic material, too, to add up to 20 Jupiters…. material like hydrogen and helium. But having a massive proportion of metal and rock would explain the size and the density of the planet, and also why it’s not fusing hydrogen in its core – because the core is iron, and iron cannot fuse outside of a supernova or a neutron star.

Either way, COROT-exo-3b is going to force a lot of people to start re-imagining solar system formation processes, as they try and figure out how this weird superplanet got there.

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~ by Planetologist on October 6, 2008.

20 Responses to “Heavy metal planet found: twice as dense as lead and heavier than 20 Jupiters”

  1. I have had a good education – four years of science at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne – probably a better education than you have had. I admit many people doing research know a lot more than I do – they are specialising – that is why I surf the web to read their observations – but these people are too close to their subjects. They are looking at individual trees or the bark on them; I am looking at the whole rainforest. I am assembling a scaffolding which supports all their observations. I know what is science, what is bullshit and what is pseuodoscience. A good model should be able to predict things. Take the Carboniferous coal belt, for instance, it should run continuously around the World because it formed at an equatorial position. My model does this – because it places Australia near South Africa and it is contiguous with coal fields in South America, Western Nigeria right up to West Virginia, Eastern Canada, through Russian Kamchatka and back to Queensland, Australia. Admittedly there is a lot of work needed here to stack up the details. A more recent band of coal formation (Permian) runs around the globe on a different trajectory and again is true to the continental positioning I have defined in my model. You will probably view these as coincidences. There is no body blinder than those that don’t want to see!

    • Okay, dude… at this point I have to ask… you’re putting me on, right? I mean, are you seriously that self-deluded?

      Let’s see… four years of science at Newcastle. My word, how could I beat that? Well, perhaps by a Ph.D. at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the top research universities in the US. And then maybe I could add to that my postdoctoral research appointments at Wash U, Johns Hopkins University, and a National Research Council fellowship with the US EPA. After that, teaching and doing actual real life research for about twenty years. Actual research means not just looking past the trees at the forest, at home in my spare time. Actual research means buying expensive research equipment and using it in an actual research laboratory. It means acquiring data, taking samples in the field, carrying out quantitative modeling of my data, operating specialized instrumentation, writing papers, getting other people to read those papers and tell me what’s wrong with them, fixing what’s wrong with those papers because I’m not an arrogant, self-absorbed megalomaniac, publishing those papers, traveling to conferences where I talk and compare notes with other people doing similar research, getting invited to give talks and to write book chapters by people who don’t know me personally but respect my work, and getting grants funded by federal agencies where the average success rate is below 10%.

      How’s that stack up?

      All that gives me the experience, knowledge and training to attempt real science. It doesn’t mean my words are pure revealed truth… it means I’m qualified to speak at a certain level of expertise on some specific topics. When I do, I try to offer references from which I obtained the information in question, so others can look into it on their own and learn something useful. I try not to say things that I think are wrong, but there are practical limits to my expertise and the time I have to devote to things. Other specialists with more experience will be able to speak with greater expertise, and I try to listen carefully to what such person have to say. Through them I can learn more. When I talk about my subject, my accumulated knowledge of the relevant literature (and the contents therein) – the trees, as you might say – allows me to assemble a clearer picture of the forest than someone who passes by on their walk and glances once or twice at the woods and assumes they’ve seen it all. I got that perspective through years of hard, dedicated work…. not a few classes here and there at the undergraduate level. Real expertise in anything is like that: being a physicist, an electrician, a truck mechanic, a quilt maker, a sculptor… in all those cases and many hundreds of other professions, there is a body of existing knowledge that apprentices have to struggle and sweat and work to learn, or else they don’t get to have opinions that matter.

      When I first went to grad school, I remember being swamped by one overriding feeling: ignorance. Coming out of college, I was quite proud of my geology degree. “Now I’m a geologist,” I thought. Well, that feeling lasted for about a fortnight once I started graduate school in earnest. Everything I thought I knew, I had only just scratched the surface. In every subject of which I was at first proud to claim knowledge, I learned I’d only just picked up about 1% (if that) of what was known. I learned that lesson not because the haughty professors told me how ignorant I was. I learned it by being introduced to the scientific literature and having my nose rubbed in those pages, by assignment after problem set after term paper, each one showing me something new. Of course from your perspective, all that sum of human knowledge business is just so much hooey…. blind, pointless ramblings by dogmatists and white-coated oligarchs. Truly, there is no body [sic] blinder than those that don’t want to see.

      You are a poser. I’m sorry to break this to you, but your fundamental ignorance of science is only exceeded by your monumental pretension at having the slightest clue what real scientific research is all about. You read the internet. Well, great. Have fun with that. Has your “research” also led you to invent new ways to perform open-heart surgery, as well as discover whole new chapters of physics and geology? Perhaps by rummaging through old magazines, reading tracts by conspiracy theorists, and staring into space for a while, you can come up with whole new surgical techniques for repairing ventricular damage. Lacking any real knowledge of the discipline, I’m sure your assessment of surgical technique would be far superior to the narrow-minded dolts who only pretend, with their medical degrees and years of experience, to see the forest as clearly as you do.

      Oh, and about that Carboniferous coal belt business: Your “analysis” missed only one tiny detail… there wasn’t a continuous band of marsh running completely around the equator during the Carboniferous. In fact, most continental landmass at that time was concentrated in the far northern and southern hemispheres, with very little land in the tropics. Most of the equator in the Carboniferous was open ocean. Oops. Perhaps you forgot to take any geology courses during those four shining years of science at Newcastle… or perhaps you forgot what you learned, never bothered to go back and look again, and simply made up what you wanted to be true out of whole cloth. My money is on the latter.

      Go away, little man. I’ve indulged your lunatic rants for a while, but your free ride is over now. You see, I’ve been told by my paymasters in the Global Conspiracy of Liberal Communist Scientists for the Gay Agenda and Public Vivisections (GCLCSGAPV, a subsidiary of the Trilateral Commission, wholly owned by the Illuminati, a subdivision of Reptoid International Inc.) that you must be silenced. I hear my white-coated masters and obey. 😉

  2. It is time you started to challenge things, instead of accepting information at face value from people in white lab coats, and then repeating the informationt like a parrot to the next generation. Look at Darwin – he turned the World upside down by challenging things. It is obvious that none of the three theories on Moon formation are robust enough – otherwise there would be only one theory. Don’t you think this all needs further investigation?
    All I am doing is assembling a theory with information gleaned by reputable scientists which have studied specific facets of the subject. It is like a jigsaw puzzle – all the pieces have to mesh perfectly with the adjacent ones. With the internet you can source this information within seconds. The trouble is the more I look into this theory – the more pieces I find to re-inforce it. Nothing has let me down so far. Just telling me I am wrong, does not bother me, it spurrs me on to look for more pieces!

    • Project much?

      Look, I admire your curiosity about the world and interest in looking into things, I really do. No sarcasm. But who is the one parroting back what they’ve been told? You point your shaky finger at me and declare essentially that I’ve bought into some conspiracy about global climate change… but can you please tell me the basis of your assumption? Might it be some newsletter from a conspiracy theorist’s club? Rush Limbaugh? What is it? Now who’s parroting?

      And where do you get off assuming you not only know more than people who actually spend their lives actually studying science? On what basis do you presume moral and intellectual superiority with such casual sneering? Yes, the world is a jigsaw puzzle, and I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this… but you only have a few of the pieces. If you want to learn more, get an education. Go take some science courses. Actually spend some hard, tedious, frustrating, exhausting time studying the real information, instead of shouting at people who are doing just that. Right now you’re playing at science, and that’s fine… but don’t assume that gives you any authority upon which to speak. The internet is not the source of information you think it is. Go to a library. They have them in lots of places.

      I’m not telling you you’re wrong to be curious, or to be interested in science. I’m telling you you’re wrong to assume your education is finished.

      And don’t ever come back here telling me I’m parroting others, or a shill to the Illuminati, or whatever else is next. When you do that you just dig your little crank bomb-shelter that much deeper.

  3. I half expected another patronising response. You have just accepted, unconditionally, one of the three theories of Moon formation listed in Wikipedia. Just because they were peer reviewed, somehow, magically, makes them credible. How could all that mass – the size of the Moon – which is a third of the Earth’s be ejected – it is absolutely ludicrous – to say the least.

    Melting points are significant when you are talking about the solar plasma sublimation (solid direct to a vapour). Venus is in the process of decay – it is an inferno – this state cannot have been maintained for billions of years – because its atmosphere is constantly leaking into the solar wind. Why do you attach so much attention to peer reviews? Professor Warren Carey presented the theory of a growing Earth, nearly forty years ago. Not all of it was correct – and he could not explain the added mass. We are now gertting closer to an explanation. The argument for subduction of old crust won the day and has stuck since then.It wasn’t long ago that Wegener’s continental drift was rejected as being preposterous by peer reviewers.

    I sense that you have bought into the Global Warming Scam and you don’t want to hear about another possible explanation for global warming, one that is not man-made.

    • Well, when forced into a corner it’s always a good idea to invoke conspiracy theories. Those work every time…

      But seriously… yes, peer review does make science credible. That’s the whole idea, and it’s not magic. It’s called accepting that you might be wrong… something I imagine you have very little experience with. During peer-review you face the acid test: do your cherished ideas make sense to other people who know a lot about the subject and have spent decades accreting knowledge and expertise. I attach value to peer reviews because that’s the only method anyone has of maintaining quality control. Your own delusional views are a case in point. However you’ve dreamed them up, if you want others to take them seriously you have to release them into the bloody arena of examination by expert strangers. If those strangers think you’re on to something, you get to be published. That’s only the beginning of the process. After publication, not only three or four peers but everyone gets to see your ideas… and if they’re bad ideas then other scientists will ridicule them or ignore them. Unlike living inside your own private fantasy world, science never gives anyone a free ride for long. Yes, old geezers can be pushy and make people listen to outdated ideas long past their expiration date… but eventually the geezers die, and science moves forward. That kind of thing is never a problem for very long.

      By the way, I didn’t look up the origin of the Moon on Wikipedia… though it’s telling you assume Wikipedia to be the source of record for all things scientific. No, I didn’t have to look it up, because I received my Ph.D. from one of the foremost experts on lunar geology in the world. Argument from authority? No, a simple statement of fact, recognizing a lifetime of achievement and intense dedication on his part. Even so, my old advisor never got a single thing published on his reputation, or because he had “Professor” in front of his name. He accumulated a long list of scientific accomplishments by being willing to work hard, accept when he was wrong, and doing work that held up under review by his peers – which didn’t always include people who liked him.

      Yes, actually it seems the Moon did form the way I described. Also, yes, global anthropogenic climate change does seem to really be happening, despite the tiresome protestations of Libertarians and the coal industry. If you don’t like that, well, tough. Prove me wrong. Go get a Ph.D. in the pertinent subject, then write an NSF or NASA grant proposal to study your pet hypotheses, do the years of hard work to study the problem, get published, get others to cite your work in their own papers, and then you get to have an opinion. Sorry, but that’s what it takes for someone to casually and arrogantly discard the body of world scientific endeavor and not be treated like a paranoid crank. Which you appear to be.

  4. their DNA, they eat too much, and don’t get any exercise.

  5. It is easy to explain why planets and stars and even galaxies are ‘migrating’ inwards on their orbits. Stars age and get smaller and more dense, yes? (not pseudo-science), rotate at increasing rates – conservation of angular momentum (fundamental physics) causes satellites to move inwards. Like those ice skaters that pull their legs and arms in – their rotation speeds up.

    Anyway I’m flogging a dead horse here, goodbye.

    • Main sequence stars age and expand, actually, and that makes them spin slower. Once they run out of fuel to power internal fusion stars do in fact contract, eventually into white dwarfs or neutron stars or black holes, which do spin faster as a result of conserved angular momentum. But neither process – expansion or contraction – itself changes the mass of the star, until or unless a nova or supernova event occurs. The stellar wind causes some loss, but I think for the Sun the mass loss due to solar wind is on the order of ten to the -14th power sols/yr. It’s insignificant at time spans smaller than trillions of years.

      Angular momentum doesn’t affect a star’s gravity. Unless you spun a star – somehow – up to relativistic spin rates, you’d not affect its apparent mass in any way. To sum up, neither spin nor volume affect the size of an object’s gravity well. Those are simply not factors in the governing equations (again, at far-from-relativistic conditions).

      Without a change in the gravitational field strength at a given distance, and without the input of gravitation from other sources, a planet would orbit a dead black dwarf star until both their masses began to decompose through proton decay, which isn’t likely to happen before about 10 to the 50th or 60th power years in the future (thereabouts).

  6. I didn’t say that HL Tau has any planets yet, gaseous or otherwise, just a zone of clumping of pebble sized debris – only the very first stage of protoplanetary formation. Yes HL Tau is too young – at 100,000 years. If their methods can detect pebble sized particles – they should be able to detect full blown rocky planets. I appreciate conditions vary, parameters vary. For instance our solar wind is more of a solar breeze than a wind, while in other systems it is more like a hurricane.

    However, I believe we will very soon come to confirm that planets are gradually migrating towards their primary – and this will perhaps become a physics model which scales upwards and downwards – in other words – our Solar System is migrating slowly towards the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy – and in turn all the Galaxies are migrating towards the Great Attractor at the centre of this Universe. The latter process may have tricked us into thinking the Universe is expanding. The trouble is we will never ever see the other side of the Great Attractor – because we have a huge Black Hole masking it.

    If we do confirm this, it will knock the Big Bang Theory on the head because we will need a much larger time scale for all these structures to have been assembled. In my opinion the Big Bang Theory is a Theory which placates Creationists – because feasibly, with it, God could have created the Universe with a flick of the wrist. (We do not want to let the insignificance of our World diminish even more with the suggestion that the Universe has been around for trillions of years; 13 billion years is long enough!)

    • Planets don’t just migrate inward toward the Sun. The Earth and Mars – two worlds from which we have physical samples – clearly formed at their current positions relative to the Sun, and haven’t moved inward measurably since. Things sometimes spiral inward toward stars – hot Jupiters being a clear example – but in those cases the null hypothesis is that billiardesque interactions among protoplanets during system formation caused those situations to occur. Chaotic interactions occur all the time during system formation, apparently. But that’s not evidence for pseudoscientific assertions about mysterious pulling forces that no one has every observed and no existing models predict.

      Earth is simply not migrating inwards, at all. In fact the tendency of the Earth – if it shifted its orbit at all – would be to drift outward, as the Sun gradually loses mass over time. Our Moon is gradually moving away from Earth, as it loses orbital momentum due to tidal drag. Eventually it will drift away completely… eventually being billions of years from now.

      The Sun is not being dragged mysteriously toward the galactic core, it’s obeying the laws of gravity and motion just as it should. Nor is the reality of the Big Bang model of cosmogenesis a scientific controversy, in any way whatsoever. What is your evidence otherwise? I mean specifically, with literature citations from peer-reviewed journals. Let’s see a bibliography. You’ve asserted something that casually tosses aside the entire body of physics and astronomy research accumulated over decades by thousands of scientists all over the world.

      Look, it’s fun to make up personal science-fiction hypotheses about all sorts of things. I do it all the time. But none of that counts unless one can back it up with hard data, write it up for publication, and have it survive the peer-review process and the rigors of subsequent examination and critique by other specialists. That goes for everyone, from the lowliest grad student to the most exalted household-name scientist. Everyone.

      As Hitchens says, “That which can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

      • It seems to me that planets ARE moving inwards towards the Sun. Venus is changing – the materials on its crust are in a state of sublimation; those materials with lower melting points are being stripped off by the solar wind. Venus could not have have formed these materials if it had been in the same position all the time. Mercury is further along the sequence in that it only has the heavier crust materials left. This has made it smaller but denser. This metamorphosis explains the occurence of the heavy metal planet in your article. From this theory it follows that the Moon was also originally close to the Sun. It too has more of the heavier metals like hafnium and zircon which have high melting points. Elements with lower melting points like sodium and potassium, common on Earth, are scarce. There are no hydrated materials either on the Moon or Mercury. Tests on Lunar rocks show that the surface was last hot some three billion years ago and it was at this time that its previous magnetism was ‘switched off’ (Bevan M French).
        The Sun is getting smaller but more and more dense as it too MIGRATES inwards towards the black hole of the Milky Way core. Its gravitational pull is therefore increasing.

      • No, no. The Sun is increasing in volume as it ages, due to internal buildup of He ash in the core and displacement of fusion to an expanding shell surrounding the non-fusing core. Also, the Sun exhibits no apparent trend toward inward migration to the galactic core. The Sun is simply orbiting about the Galaxy, as are roughly 100 billion other stars… stably.

        The Moon is dead dry… this is true. But the Moon is dry because it formed through intense violence. Around 4.4 billion years ago a Mars-sized body slammed into the Earth, substantially melting both, and resulting in a merger of that incoming object’s core with Earth’s core and the boiling off of nearly all original volatiles from the post-impact fragments that didn’t permanently join Earth’s mass. Earth is large enough to hold onto boiling volatiles (other than He and H2), but the remaining debris wasn’t… later, that ring of debris coalesced into a single body, our Moon. The Moon actually did form in about the same region of the solar nebula as did Earth, as shown by isotopic data. Neither Earth nor the Moon are migrating inward to the Sun.

        Mercury is dry because it is very close to the Sun, and has no magnetic field to protect it from the solar wind’s ablating effects. Venus isn’t losing anything due to sublimation… and if I’m wrong about that, could you please provide a peer-reviewed reference to that effect? Venus lost most its original water, but not via “sublimation”… it was via photolysis in its upper atmosphere: H2O splitting via solar UV to form H2 and O radicals. The H2 was lost to space, the O joined with atmospheric sulfur-gases (e.g. SO2, H2S) to make sulfuric acid, which tints Venus’ clouds today still. All that photolysis requires being close to the Sun billions of years ago. Venus isn’t migrating inward, it formed where it is. Again, if you have conflicting peer-reviewed references on that topic, please post them here.

        Melting points, by the way, reflect temperatures at which solids become liquids… not when liquids become gases.

        This mythical inwards-migration planetary-metamorphosis pseudoscience business is getting quite tiresome. Unless some journal articles are forthcoming on the topic, there will be no more of it here. This is my fatwa.

  7. Continuing my comment about planet formation with points relative to the above article.

    It seems like recent interpretations of planet formation are moving away from the old Theory of star + planets being all formed together in the same event. A News release from the Royal Astronomical Society (April 2008) is reviewed by Astrobiology Magazine http://www.astrobio.net. It details observations of a planet forming around the Star HL Tau.(Greaves, Richards). The team studied the disc of gas and rocky particles the size of pebbles around the star – using radio emission at a wavelength of 1.3cm. It suggests that planets evolve long after the birth of the star itself and they form as protoplanets from particles condensing out. Their observations showed the preliminary clumping together. This clumping zone is about eight times the mass of Jupiter and is twice as far away from its Star as Neptune is from our Sun. So this is a long way out!

    Other astroscientists like Alan Boss suggest inward migration of protoplanets with accretion of a nucleus enveloped by hydrogen.

    Cosmic debris containing heavier elements (star dust) will tend to bring itself into a closer orbit to the Star than the debris containing lighter elements.

    Embryo planets on the outer edge of the system will initially only mop up the lighter elements. As the planet matures and gets closer to the star, heavier elements are also assimilated. So one would expect to find inner planets of greater density than outer planets; Neptune is 339 lbs/ft compared with Mars 246 ibs/ft. I have not indicated those of the gas planets because we do not know the densities of their cores. And the planet Corot exo 3b described above would tie in nicely as a super heavy, which has picked up superdense debris as it came into close proximity of its large Star.

    • Recent observations have indeed shown some very clear and striking evidence for planet formation much farther out than standard models predict, but that isn’t evidence our own solar system started that same way. The new observations help to expand our models… show us a wider range of outcomes. Solar systems can form under a variety of conditions, apparently, with some cases where big planets form very far out, and other conditions where big planets form and quickly spiral inwards to become hot Jupiters. They aren’t all alike.

      Also it’s important to realize that the methods now being used to detect extrasolar planets really aren’t sensitive enough to find Earth-sized worlds. Worlds as small as about five Earth masses have been found, but around low-mass stars where their Doppler or transit signals can be made out from the noise. Jupiters are easy to find because they’re big. Eventually the technology will be available to reliably find Earths and reliably infer their absence, but it isn’t here yet. The star HL Tau has one big observable gas giant forming in its outer reaches… but the techniques used to find it cannot resolve objects as small as terrestrial worlds.

      Another problem with your interpretation is that the HL Tau system is very, very young…. about 100,000 years. According to standard planetary evolution models there shouldn’t even be any planets there yet, only dust and rocks accreting through electrostatic interactions. The observed gas giant wouldn’t even be a sphere yet, more like a dense eddy zone. One hundred thousand years isn’t long after the birth of the star itself…. it’s during the birth of the star itself.

      I’ll try to do a post on solar system formation soon… there’s too much to cover here. But the short version of relevance here is that inner planets form where they are, and if not disturbed will tend to remain in those orbits and accrete into discrete masses that over time sweep their orbits of the majority of other debris. The reason inner planets are rocky is that when their star lights up it blows out a powerful solar wind, and that solar wind pushes all the remaining unaccreted gas molecules out of its way. Dust and rocks aren’t pushed significantly, but gas molecules are. When our Sun lit up the inner solar system temperature was still far above the freezing point of the light gases and volatiles (e.g. NH3, CH4, H2O, CO2, H2, He), but far below the freezing point of metal and silicate rock. Ices didn’t form here, but rocks did. We had to get most of our volatiles from a buildup of comet material, much later.

  8. We do not understand the physics of phenomena like this, but surely there must be a process – other than fusion – where elements within planets get heavier and heavier. We have extreme forces of pressure, temperature, chemical reaction and magnetism working together. We also have long time-frames for elements to ‘cook’ with added protons and radiation from he Sun.

    • Actually we understand nuclear reactions and chemical reactions pretty well. There’s a giant literature out there, on this. The only way to make elements other than the primordial H, He and trace Li is through nuclear reactions. Straight up. No chemical process can do it, because the binding energies in nuclei are orders of magnitude – many orders of magnitude – greater than the energies exchanged in chemical reactions. Imagine a ton of TNT blowing up. Now imagine a ton of plutonium blowing up in a fission reaction. That’s the difference between chemical binding energies (TNT ignition) and nuclear binding energies (Pu fission).

      Out there in the universe there is no way to make heavy elements other than through stellar fusion processes or processes operating on stellar relics like neutron stars. No planet-scale object made of normal non-degenerate matter can work nuclear alchemy, outside of engineered machinery. This newly-discovered object is mysterious, but it’s probably just an outcome of natural processes that are well known, but with more possible outcomes than we’ve taken into account so far. That’s easy enough… we only have one solar system to study up close.

  9. […] list of star systems, with all their worlds – hot Jupiters, super-Earths, ice giants and at least one giant ball of metal – one will not find the closest star system to Sol…. the Alpha Centauri system. Only 4.4 […]

  10. It’s a Dyson Sphere. Mystery solved 😉

  11. […] something so bizarre I can’t even imagine it. That really intrigues me. You aren’t the only one pondering the composition based only on a mass and a radius. This is certainly an […]

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