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Bellerophon
 
 
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Astronomers have been finding some strange things orbiting other stars. Bellerophon was the first extrasolar planet found orbiting a Sun-like star — 51 Pegasi b, to be exact. They have found several other so-called "hot Jupiters," or roaster planets, or epistellar jovians, or pegasids, or pegasean planets. They all have masses close to or exceeding that of Jupiter, and they're hot because they orbit so close to their parent stars. all within half an astronomical unit. In other words, well inside Earth's orbit. Nobody saw that coming, proving yet again that J. B. S. Haldane was right: The universe is stranger than we can imagine.

You have to wonder how a gas giant can exist so close to the blast-furnace of its sun. Pictured here from the surface of a small satellite, I imagined the atmosphere of Bellerophon being blown away by the stellar wind like a giant comet. It is stretched out of round by tidal stresses and its own angular momentum, and surrounded by a retinue of orbiting rocks.

   
 

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All original images ©1970-2011 by Greg A. West. All rights reserved. Trademarks shown in examples and on the Links page are the property of their respective owners and are not available for reproduction.