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This Planet Burns Hotter Than Most Stars

The phrase “hot mess” has never been more appropriate. Astronomers have found a massive, wildly whirling, disintegrating exoplanet that reaches a burning 7800°F. The team described the bizarre gas giant in the journal Nature.

The Hubble and other big space telescopes tend to get all the glory, but smaller instruments here on Earth are working just as hard. The newly discovered exoplanet, called KELT-9b, was named for the humble scope that spotted it—a KELT, or Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope.

Located 650 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus (pictured here), KELT-9b is one strange celestial body.

Telescope image of the Cygnus Loop Nebula.
Part of the constellation Cygnus.

With nearly three times the mass of Jupiter, it's gargantuan, and it’s locked in breakneck orbit around the star HD 195689 (a.k.a. KELT-9). The exoplanet is so close to the star and moving so fast that one full transit around HD 195689—what we think of as a year—takes less than two days.

The planet is also tidally locked to its star, the same way we only ever see one side of our Moon. And the side of KELT-9b that faces HD 195689 is on permanent, hellish blast. It’s so hot that if you somehow managed to get water onto its surface, the water would immediately dissociate into its component molecules of hydrogen and oxygen.

Co-lead author Scott Gaudi of The Ohio State University says he and his colleagues are just boggled by the discovery.

"It's a planet by any of the typical definitions based on mass, but its atmosphere is almost certainly unlike any other planet we've ever seen just because of the temperature of its day side," he said in a statement.

But KELT-9b’s blazing, wild ride is not destined to last. The paper authors say the exoplanet is likely already shedding mass like a comet as it moves. And if this gradual melting doesn’t destroy it, its ravenous sun will swallow the peculiar, scalding planet like a cookie straight out of the oven.

"The long-term prospects for life, or real estate for that matter, on KELT-9b are not looking good,” co-lead author Keivan Stassun of Vanderbilt University said in the statement.

This is too bad for KELT-9b, but it could be very good for science.

"As we seek to develop a complete picture of the variety of other worlds out there,” Stassun said, “it's important to know not only how planets form and evolve, but also when and under what conditions they are destroyed."

Gaudi says the discovery is a reminder that we still have a lot to learn, and that we need to think bigger.

“Mother Nature is way more imaginative than we are,” he told CNN. “And anytime you find something this weird, it broadens your horizons of what nature can possibly be like."

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science
What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

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Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
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Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

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