Stellaris D-32:

Stellaris D-32:

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Mar 18, 2016
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Good morning, everyone! Today we're going to talk about a planet. A very large planet, in a very interesting system. Meet HD 114762 b; or as we call it unofficially, Latham's Planet.



This is the very first exoplanet that humans ever discovered. It was discovered in 1989 by a team led by Dr David Latham, hence the name, and was unconfirmed until 1991. This is incredibly early: Exoplanet searches didn't really kick off in a serious way until the early 2000s. Latham's Planet must have been a very special place to be noticeable in this way.

Oh, it is.

Latham's Planet is enormous. Even now, with vastly more planets discovered, it sits solidly near the top of the table. We don't know its exact mass but it's between 11 and 63 times Jupiter. (If you think that's an inexact number then you haven't met enough astrophysicists.)

At the time when we discovered it, it gave us two shocks. The first is how close it is to its star, and the second is how eccentric its orbit is. In the Solar system all the gas giants are a long way out and all the orbits are neat and circular. Latham's Planet was an early sign that this isn't even close to universally true. At its furthest from the star it's only one-third as far out as Earth is, and at its closest it's one-tenth as far.

We think that anything which gets this close will quickly lose its atmosphere unless it's very heavy and has a heavy atmosphere. Latham's Planet, however, is nothing if not heavy, which once raised the question: is it actually a brown dwarf?

What's a brown dwarf?

Gas giants are big balls of gas. Stars are balls of gas so big that they've begun to fuse the gases in their core. There isn't a clear line between the two: some gas giants get large enough that they begin to undergo some limited fusion in their core, and thus straddle the line between stars and gas giants. They're called brown dwarfs but a better image may simply be "like Jupiter but glowing slightly."

In other words, Latham's Planet may actually be Latham's Really Small And Dim Star That's Very Close To Another Star.

Is it a brown dwarf?

It turns out not. In 2014, Stephen Kane and Dawn Gelino applied more modern methods and showed that Latham's Planet wasn't glowing.

Can earthlike life exist there?

Not only no but hell no. Firstly it's a gas giant much larger than Jupiter, its gravity would crush anyone. Secondly it's incredibly close to its star: the light would be so intense that it would boil surface water. Thirdly and most importantly, it is a gas giant. You cannot live on a gas giant.

It might have moons, but since Latham's Planet is not in the habitable zone, they would not be habitable by earthlike life either.



So why do you mention this disappointing planet?

Because it's important in human history: this is the first exoplanet we ever discovered. But also because I wanted to talk about gas giants. See, gas giants are pretty awesome.

Hydrogen will be a useful fuel in the future, especially if we go to space in a big way. We can use hydrogen to fuel fusion reactors and to create liquid water. Gas giants have rather a lot of it. In fact they have so much that below a certain point the gas wouldn't actually be in gas form at all because the pressure would turn it liquid.

Many people have the image of spacecraft dipping down to the surface of a gas giant to skim off some gas for their engines. This is inaccurate for two reasons. Firstly, there's no clear "surface", only a fuzzy region which fades between "atmosphere" and "void." That region has too much gas in it to fly through easily but too little to be worth mining.

Secondly, descending to lower orbits and then ascending to lower ones is expensive in energy terms. This is especially true if the body you're orbiting is heavy or you're close to it. Latham's Planet is very heavy, and we'd need to be very close to skim the atmosphere. As a result doing this would almost certainly cost more energy than we got from it.

Unless we built a facility to do it.

If we were to put a station in low orbit around Latham's Planet and dangle a space elevator down from it into the atmosphere, then we could mine all the gas we wanted and take it up to orbit for easy pickup and delivery. It would even be in convenient pressurised form. This sounds easier than it is: the upper-atmosphere storms on Jupiter are scary places and there's no reason to suppose that Latham's Planet will have it any easier. That space elevator is going to be blown around like tinsel in a hurricane.

It wouldn't be a very desirable posting. We'd be better off leaving all the personnel - if there are any - in the orbital station and having the mining operation mechanised. However, if we needed fuel in space in that system then we would have as much as we wanted. To all intents and purposes we would never come even close to running out of gas from Latham's Planet.

Previous thread: The Death Star
 
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StarGrazer

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Great article(?) , these things are really interesting and helping bridge the one month of waiting left.
How hot are we talking here? Wouldn't this be a problem if we were trying to put things in its atmosphere when you're so close to the sun, or would it be manageable enough for some metals?
 
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Mar 18, 2016
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Great article(?) , these things are really interesting and helping bridge the one month of waiting left.
How hot are we talking here? Wouldn't this be a problem if we were trying to put things in its atmosphere when you're so close to the sun, or would it be manageable enough for some metals?

It'd be manageable enough. I don't know how hot it is exactly - that would depend on a lot of factors that I don't know - but it's nothing that engineers can't overcome.
 
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Held der Arbeit

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The real question is: are we mining minerals or energy credits here?
 
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TheNitram

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Thank you for doing this! It's a great mix of heavy numbery science, simple explanations and humour.
Great piece of scientific vulgarization (gosh that name is so ugly.)
 
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jaredstanko

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first exoplanet discovered, logically has to mean that its f-huge
 

Tallfellow

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I'm really enjoying these! So i'm already looking forward to the one tomorrow! Exoplanets are awesome places, and yeah, mass isn't always easy to judge in space from all that i've read about it!
 
Mar 18, 2016
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I'm really enjoying these! So i'm already looking forward to the one tomorrow! Exoplanets are awesome places, and yeah, mass isn't always easy to judge in space from all that i've read about it!

Thank you for bringing that up because I wanted to talk about it.

I'm going to be in hospital tomorrow (don't worry, everything is fine.) As a result I'll put out an update but it'll be from my phone so it'll be short and won't have as many pictures.

I will not be updating over the weekend. Therefore if someone else wants to do D-30 and D-29, they should feel free. I remember several people discussing Betelgeuse as something they were interested in. That might make a fun update, and if they do it then I'd love to read it.

As a result, the next full update from me will be D-28 on Monday. It will feature witches. Or possibly necromancers.
 
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allan79

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Thank you for bringing that up because I wanted to talk about it.

I'm going to be in hospital tomorrow (don't worry, everything is fine.) As a result I'll put out an update but it'll be from my phone so it'll be short and won't have as many pictures.

I will not be updating over the weekend. Therefore if someone else wants to do D-31 and D-30, they should feel free. I remember several people discussing Betelgeuse as something they were interested in. That might make a fun update, and if they do it then I'd love to read it.

As a result, the next full update from me will be D-29 on Monday. It will feature witches. Or possibly necromancers.
That is one hell of a teaser....

And have a speedy recovery
 
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beckermt

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The real question is: are we mining minerals or energy credits here?

Two possibilities:
It's minerals, because ships have minerals upkeep, which is fuel and ammo and stuff. Hydrogen is fuel. Maybe not 200 years in the future though.
It's energy. Hydrogen is a fungible resource, as it were, and can be used in many applications. It's a tradable commodity and (again) fuel, which is used as upkeep for mining stations and such!

Oh and it makes water when you toss oxygen at it, so that's fancy.
 
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hewhoispale

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Good morning, everyone! Today we're going to talk about a planet. A very large planet, in a very interesting system. Meet HD 114762 b; or as we call it unofficially, Latham's Planet.

Latham's Planet is enormous. Even now, with vastly more planets discovered, it sits solidly near the top of the table. We don't know its exact mass but it's between 11 and 63 times Jupiter. (If you think that's an inexact number then you haven't met enough astrophysicists.)

My mind cannot process something that big. I'm trying to but it just keeps boggling.
 

SolarGuy

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Because Jupiter has a solid core 14 to 18 times the mass of Earth, I wonder how big the core of this gas giant here is.
I'm just curious, what would happen if someone "removed" the atmosphere of Jupiter? Would the core stay or would it fall apart because it doesn't have enough pressure to be held together?
 
Mar 18, 2016
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I'm just curious, what would happen if someone "removed" the atmosphere of Jupiter? Would the core stay or would it fall apart because it doesn't have enough pressure to be held together?

It would stay. Things don't tend to fall apart in space; even a handful of gravel will cluster together due to gravitational forces unless someone deliberately scatters them.