Just over 1,500 light-years away in the constellation of Hercules there’s a rugby ball-shaped exoplanet orbiting a star. It’s the first time astronomers have been able to detect such an unusual shape of an alien world.
Most planets are more or less spherical due to gravitational forces that pull matter equally in from all sides, yet WASP-103b appears to be elongated. The planet is in an orbit close to its host star, and experiences strong tidal forces that appear to have deformed its surface.
The findings were published in a paper in Astronomy & Astrophysics on Tuesday.
Tidal interactions between a star and its companions can suck exoplanets in, making the time it takes for a complete orbit to shorten over time. But the orbital period for WASP-103b appears to be increasing, meaning its getting further away from its star.
The team isn’t quite sure why the planet seems to be getting more distant, and are trying to confirm the data in future observations.