A study published in the latest issue of Nature indicates there is a distant planet -- HD 80606b -- which is four times the size of Jupiter and is able to heat up more than 1,200 degrees in just six hours.
"We watched the development of one of the fiercest storms in the galaxy," Lick Observatory astronomer Greg Laughlin said in a statement. "If you could float above the clouds of this planet, you'd see its sun growing larger and larger at faster and faster rates, increasing in brightness by almost a factor of 1,000."
The NASA Spitzer Space Telescope was used to study the changing weather on HD 80606b -- a first for a planet outside of our solar system. It also has a very distinct orbit, as it comes closer to its sun than Mercury's distance from the Earth's sun, before launching away to be just as far as Earth is from the sun.
When it's closest to the sun, radiation is 800 times stronger than when it is orbiting far away from the sun. The planet orbits the star in 111 days. The extremely high heat and severe temperature changes obviously make it unlikely any signs of life exist on the planet.
"The orbit is extremely eccentric," Laughlin said in the NASA statement. "Of the expolanets that have been detected -- we've observed 300 -- this is the most extreme orbit we've seen so far."
The odd orbit accounts for the planet's extreme temperature change, with the planet normally averaging a temperature around 980 degrees.
Astronomers look forward to learning more about the planet, especially its odd orbit that causes extreme temperature changes. They also want to try and get a direct image of the planet sometime in the future, and leave behind artist's interpretations.
quote: When carbon is oxidized during the respiratory process of a terrestrial organism, it becomes the gas carbon dioxide – a waste material that is easy for a creature to remove from its body. The oxidation of silicon, however, yields a solid because, immediately upon formation, silicon dioxide organizes itself into a lattice in which each silicon atom is surrounded by four oxygens. Disposing of such a substance would pose a major respiratory challenge.
quote: Life-forms must also be able to collect, store, and utilize energy from their environment. In carbon-based biota, the basic energy storage compounds are carbohydrates in which the carbon atoms are linked by single bonds into a chain. A carbohydrate is oxidized to release energy (and the waste products water and carbon dioxide) in a series of controlled steps using enzymes. These enzymes are large, complex molecules (see proteins) which catalyze specific reactions because of their shape and "handedness." A feature of carbon chemistry is that many of its compounds can take right and left forms, and it is this handedness, or chirality, that gives enzymes their ability to recognize and regulate a huge variety of processes in the body. Silicon's failure to give rise to many compounds that display handedness makes it hard to see how it could serve as the basis for the many interconnected chains of reactions needed to support life.
quote: The absence of silicon-based biology, or even silicon-based prebiotic chemicals, is also suggested by astronomical evidence. Wherever astronomers have looked – in meteorites, in comets, in the atmospheres of the giant planets, in the interstellar medium, and in the outer layers of cool stars – they have found molecules of oxidized silicon (silicon dioxide and silicates) but no substances such as silanes or silicones which might be the precursors of a silicon biochemistry.