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NASA Announces Possible "Zombie" Planet

| 30 Oct 2012 04:11

Forget walkers and runners, scientists may have discovered a zombie that orbits stars.

Does the zombie apocalypse feel a little pedestrian to you at this point? Are discussions about walkers and runners just plain boring? Well, NASA may have upped the ante by announcing the possible existence of an entire zombie planet from beyond the stars. Classified as Fomalhaut b, this exoplanet is shrouded in debris, undetectable using infrared, and is coming for your brains! (Note: only two of those facts are true. That we know of.)

Fomalhaut b was a pretty big deal back in 2008. The stellar object was considered to be one of the first exoplanets visible to the human eye from outside the solar system, making it possibly larger than our own neighbor Jupiter. NASA naturally tried to gather more details, but that's where it got weird: the investigation was unable to confirm the usual signs of a planet's existence. Fomalhaut b wouldn't show up on infrared and didn't follow the usual orbital pattern for an exoplanet of its predicted size. NASA wrote Fomalhaut b off as a phantom dust cloud, and set about doing other business that space scientists are apt to do.

Years later, a few scientists reviewed the data on this phantom dust cloud and noted some irregularities. Not only was the object clearly visible, it also maintained a consistent brightness, which is pretty unusual for a dust cloud. The nearby debris, which surrounds Fomalhaut b's star as a large ring, also appears to be changing in a pattern consistent with the gravity of a moving planet. Just about every sign outside of infrared suggests that the object is an exoplanet, but like the undead, it simply doesn't have enough of a heat signature to finally confirm its existence.

"If nothing else, it's an exceptionally rare object, and it will be studied and argued about for a very, very long time," said former NASA astronomer Thayne Currie. "And regardless of exactly what it is, by studying it we'll understand a lot more about the kind of environment that young planetary systems have, what they look like when they're in their infancy."

All kidding aside, the zombie-themed terminology from this announcement has a lot more to do with our proximity to Halloween than any planetary haven for flesh-eating zombies. Still, considering Fomalhaut b's lack of an infrared signature and the possible resurrection of its planetary status, it's an amusing and somewhat apt description. I also now fully expect to see Fomalhaut b mentioned in at least two very bad movies about invading space zombies.

Source: CTV News

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