Flying Space Toasters: Electrified Exoplanets Really Feel the Heat

by Jason Major on June 4, 2013

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Artist's concept of "hot Jupiter" exoplanet HD 149026b (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist’s concept of “hot Jupiter” exoplanet HD 149026b (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Overheated and overinflated, hot Jupiters are some of the strangest extrasolar planets to be discovered by the Kepler mission… and they may be even more exotic than anyone ever thought. A new model proposed by Florida Gulf Coast University astronomer Dr. Derek Buzasi suggests that these worlds are intensely affected by electric currents that link them to their host stars. In Dr. Buzasi’s model, electric currents arising from interactions between the planet’s magnetic field and their star’s stellar wind flow through the interior of the planet, puffing it up and heating it like an electric toaster.

In effect, hot Jupiters are behaving like giant resistors within exoplanetary systems.

Many of the planets found by the Kepler mission are of a type known as “hot Jupiters.” While about the same size as Jupiter in our own solar system, these exoplanets are located much closer to their host stars than Mercury is to the Sun — meaning that their atmospheres are heated to several thousands of degrees.

One problem scientists have had in understanding hot Jupiters is that many are inflated to sizes larger than expected for planets so close to their stars. Explanations for the “puffiness” of these exoplanets have generally involved some kind of extra heating process — but no model successfully explains the observation that more magnetically active stars tend to have puffier hot Jupiters orbiting around them.

“This kind of electric heating doesn’t happen very effectively on planets in our solar system because their outer atmospheres are cold and don’t conduct electricity very well,” says Dr. Buzasi. “But heat up the atmosphere by moving the planet closer to its star and now very large currents can flow, which delivers extra heat to the deep interior of the planet — just where we need it.”

More magnetically active stars have more energetic winds, and would provide larger currents — and thus more heat — to their planets.

The currents start in the magnetosphere, the area where the stellar wind meets the planetary magnetic field, and enter the planet near its north and south poles. This so-called “global electric circuit” (GEC) exists on Earth as well, but the currents involved are only a few thousand amps at 100,000 volts or less.

On the hot Jupiters, though, currents can amount to billions of amps at voltages of millions of volts — a “significant current,” according to Dr. Buzasi.

A Spitzer-generated exoplanet weather map showing temperatures on a hot Jupiter HAT-P-2b.

A Spitzer-generated exoplanet weather map showing temperatures on hot Jupiter HAT-P-2b.

“It is believed that these hot Jupiter planets formed farther out and migrated inwards later, but we don’t yet fully understand the details of the migration mechanism,” Dr. Buzasi says. “The better we can model how these planets are built, the better we can understand how solar systems form. That in turn, would help astronomers understand why our solar system is different from most, and how it got that way.”

Other electrical heating processes have previously been suggested by other researchers as well, once hints of magnetic fields in exoplanets were discovered in 2003 and models of atmospheric wind drag — generating frictional heating — as a result of moving through these fields were made in 2010.

(And before anyone attempts to suggest this process supports the alternative “electric universe” (EU) theory… um, no.)

“No, nothing EU-like at all in my model,” Dr. Buzasi told Universe Today in an email. “I just look at how the field aligned currents that we see in the terrestrial magnetosphere/ionosphere act in a hot Jupiter environment, and it turns out that a significant fraction of the resulting circuit closes inside the planet (in the outer 10% of the radius, mostly) where it deposits a meaningful amount of heat.”

This work will be presented at the 222nd meeting of the American Astronomical Society on June 4, 2013.


A graphic designer in Rhode Island, Jason writes about space exploration on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News, and, of course, here on Universe Today. Ad astra!

Kevin Frushour June 4, 2013 at 9:49 PM

I am finally watching the 2004 Battlestar Galactica. When I saw “Flying Space Toasters” I got a completely different image than planets.

Aqua4U June 4, 2013 at 10:01 PM

Thanks for posting this article Jason! The EU theory just doesn’t add up, it’s dead. BUT what I’ve learned and found in this blog and elsewhere is that ANY mention or even conjecture about the possible extended effects of EM energy will be immediately POUNCED UPON as heresy by those who vociferously defend their limited knowledge. I won’t name names, but you know who you are! This is to be expected from ‘old school’ advocates? Get a clue… ANYONE who claims that we have all the information in regards to this subject is a fool!

Key here is open-mindedness. Put away your titanium blinders and take another look, won’t you? The evidence is all around you… Cudo’s to Hannes Alfven for his work in attempting to explain the unknown and breaking down this barrier!

Torbjörn Larsson June 5, 2013 at 5:41 PM

This result, as well as everything astrophysics from planetary system formation [ ] to planet formation [ ] is fully devoid of EU theory.

Lying about the failure of EU may reward your own brain, but be aware that everyone else is utterly bored by such inanities.

Also, there are places were discussing remaining problems is useful, but promoting failed theories is not such. It is in fact the opposite, useless.

Aqua4U June 5, 2013 at 5:59 PM

I said I wouldn’t mention names… I didn’t have to. You did it for me.

torque xtr June 4, 2013 at 6:08 PM

Got the feeling that numbers don’t quite match – billions of amps at millions of volts mean 10^15- 10^16 watts of dissipated power. This is an order of magnitude lower than our Jupiter’s internal heat, and Jupiter doesn’t look heated to incadescence and bloated at all…

orrery June 4, 2013 at 11:20 PM

Despite the uneducated naysayers, the EU theory is the best theory in this and every other astrophysical aspect. Sadly, many people including the author here are still indoctrinated into blind obedience to long failed models. They are holding back the EU model to hold off a vacuum because their model was destroyed long long ago.

Torbjörn Larsson June 5, 2013 at 5:35 PM

the EU theory is the best theory in this

I’m not aware that EU crackpots has published peer review papers on this, which is why this is news in the first place.

and every other astrophysical aspect.

Also, everything astrophysical from planetary system formation [ ] to planet formation [ ] is fully devoid of EU theory.

Lying about the failure of EU may reward your own brain, but be aware that everyone else is utterly unmoved by such inanities.

Siggy_GL June 5, 2013 at 10:05 PM

Hot Jupiters are one of several observations that point to serious problems with the consensus models (fully devoid of EU). Most planetary scientists would admit that. Yet, you seem to promote a non-failed state of these models.

Olaf2 June 5, 2013 at 6:13 PM

EU is the most rubbish claim ever invented. And it is pretty obvious when you realize that 2 charges with the same sign hates each other and will repel each other with a force that dwarfs gravitation pull.

GregtheThird June 5, 2013 at 2:37 AM

This article will no doubt open the Pandora’s box for the EU enthusiasts to come and ply their wares. Like a zombie this discredited theory seems to keep popping up from the grave. I have a particular distaste for the electric sun hypothesis. I will pre-emptively leave a link that I have used that should erase any doubts about this theory so people are not tempted to lend any credence references to the works of Ralph Jurgens and others.

Siggy_GL June 5, 2013 at 11:08 AM

GregtheThird: your claim seems contradictive in that you post a critique
from the grave, that contain numerous misconceptions about the model it
attempts to discredit and this (and Bridgman’s attempts) have been
rebutted since.

Torbjörn Larsson June 5, 2013 at 5:29 PM

Your claim is non-referenced. GTT’s is not.

Please return you claim to its grave. =D

Siggy_GL June 5, 2013 at 9:50 PM

Yes, GTT referenced a website. I’m reluctant to post links in these commentary fields, but since you’re pointing to lack of references, I may provide a few:

There are more on each side (I won’t enter a commentary field debate), but the point is that the “debunking” attempts don’t stand undebated and they clearly contain misconceptions and misrepresentations of the model/author they attempt to discredit.

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE June 5, 2013 at 10:27 PM

Ancient Mariner June 5, 2013 at 6:39 AM

So there’s a really long extension cord on those toasters… from the star to the planet’s magnetosphere: it just consists of the stellar wind and entrained magnetic field lines…! Can’t get the screensaver out of my head now, oh nooooo…

Siggy_GL June 5, 2013 at 8:40 AM

This research is definitelly taking a step in the right direction, exploring configurations of electric and magnetic fields in interstellar plasma as heating mechanisms. It doesn’t yet explain the planetary formation, since the model still is stuck to the standard one in that regard.

GregtheThird: your claim seems contradictive in that you post a critique from the grave, that contain numerous misconceptions about the model it attempts to discredit and this (and Bridgman’s attempts) have been rebutted since.

Torbjörn Larsson June 5, 2013 at 5:27 PM

This result has nothing to do with predicting planetary formation, which are models that are known and fruitful (which is why we stick with them).

If you think magnetohydrodynamic theory of interactions in an already formed planet has anything to predict on planetary formation, you are confused. … wait, you are a EU crackpot, so of course you are confused.

But scientists are not confused here.

Aqua4U June 5, 2013 at 6:27 PM

The scientific method definitely has its place in our world, but sadly there are those who use it as a shield against recognizing their own humanity. Yes, I talk to plants… and they talk back to me. I’m not nuts, but you should hear what they have to say….

Siggy_GL June 5, 2013 at 10:09 PM

Hot Jupiters are one of several observations that point to serious
problems with the consensus models. The results described in the article attempted to explain its temperature by induced currents in a conductive plasma atmosphere (a good approach by the way), yet fails to explain what a Hot Jupiter is in the first place. So yes, the mechanisms are related, and there is an EU explanation to this.

flipdog June 5, 2013 at 10:11 AM

I object to all this language of ‘electricity.’ Anyone would think that the universe is not actually a random chance event that will never ever happen again, and might even question our beloved elders and their not-at-all-making-it-up-as-they-go-along notions of dark energy and dark matter in an attempt to plug the gaping gaps in the current standard gravity model, which has no gaps in it whatsoever, is entirely falsifiable (for how else could it be science?) and makes perfect sense to everybody, right down to its appeals to coincidence and chance whenever something unexpectedly synchronicitous is observed. Electric Universe, I piss on your grave!

Torbjörn Larsson June 5, 2013 at 5:24 PM

a random chance event that will never ever happen again

More precisely, it was a spontaneous event (which a 0-energy flat universe must be according to thermodynamics) but it was a ~ 1-2 % pick out of the available distribution (according to the Planck observations of low spatial modes in the cosmic microwave background).

But yes, the precise outcome of structures is, as in evolution, not expected to be repeated with the same initial conditions.

their not-at-all-making-it-up-as-they-go-along notions of dark energy and dark matter in an attempt to plug the gaping gaps in the current standard gravity model,

Science is always making it up as it goes, how else would it work?

What gaps? I think this is confusing cosmology, which is newtonian at heart (a dynamics of a system at its escape velocity), with relativity, which is einsteinian (the geometry of the system) at heart.

lcrowell June 5, 2013 at 12:50 PM

This process converts the energy of orbital motion into thermal energy. The interaction of charged particles in the plasma flying off the star with the magnetic field of the planet results in electromagnetic force (EMF). This EMF generates currents that interact with material in the planet. This is not fundamentally different from the motion of magnets in an electric generator.

No EU stuff is necessary to understand this.


Aqua4U June 5, 2013 at 6:16 PM

I totally agree! My statement below is NOT advocating EU theory, instead it is a complaint about the close mindedness of those who would attack ANY mention of the electrodynamics that exist all around us… without which, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Siggy_GL June 5, 2013 at 9:52 PM

Indeed, Dr. Buzasi should have credit for applying induced currents in a plasma as a heating mechanism in a planetary system. Hannes Alfvén encouraged more cirquit theory in astrophysics – so do EU advocates.

lcrowell June 6, 2013 at 1:39 PM

This mechanism is only prevalent because the hot Jovian planet is so close to the star. In our solar system the much larger distances mean the influence of solar CMB flares and the like only extends to the ionosphere and out. It has an negligible influence on orbital dynamics in our solar system. Even for the hot Jovian planet examined here the conversion of orbital kinetic energy to thermal energy by this mechanism “skims off” a tiny percentage of that orbital kinetic energy in any unit of time; say the periodicity of that orbit.


Siggy_GL June 6, 2013 at 7:57 PM

The close distance to the star is relevant for the described mechanism. However, the described mechanism is not a conversion of the planet’s orbital kinetic energy into thermal energy. It is ohmic heating in the atmoshphere due to electric currents arising from the interaction of the planet’s magnetic field with the bypassing stellarwind (charged particles). The mechanism would still take place if the planet hypothetically stood still at the same position. (The orbital motion contributes a bit to the transversed volume of particles though).

SirWilhelm June 17, 2013 at 2:02 PM

That is because our Solar System has had time to reach a state of relative stability. But, there is still electrical interaction between every body in the System, which main stream astronomers and cosmologists, are discovering every day, like the author of this article. For instance, the way comets develop tails, and flare up, well beyond the point in their orbits where heat from the Sun would affect them, which can be explained by electrical interaction, and the charge each comet carries. Then there’s the hexagon shaped storms that have been found at the poles of all the gas giant planets, which demonstrate the existng electrical connection between the planets, and the Sun. just to name a couple. Evidence confirming EU theory is great, and growing everyday, especially considering the lack of funding for it’s researchers, compared to main stream scientists, like this one. Fortunately, as in this case, some of them do their work for them, with discoveries like this one, which you, and he, have to explain away, because it does confirm some EU theory.

SirWilhelm June 17, 2013 at 1:52 PM

Charged particles are plasma, and EU theory points out the Universe is 99.9% plasma, electrically charged particles. Also, you can’t have magnetism, without electricity, and vice versa. Which is why the term “electromagnetic force”, combines “electric” with “magnetic”. Which comes first in the motion of magnets in an electric generator? Can electric generators work without the force of some other form of energy, such as steam, generated by the burning of coal or gas, or the heat from nuclear reactors, or, the force of moving waters, such as those housed at the bottom of dams?
Your lack of understanding of how electricity works, let alone of EU theory, could be greatly improved, by a little research.

Jason Major June 5, 2013 at 1:50 PM

This mechanism is an external source of heat, in addition to whatever the hot Jupiters may already be generating internally.

Torbjörn Larsson June 5, 2013 at 5:15 PM

the alternative “electric universe” (EU) theory

That is too much equivocation. Such theory has never been viable, so is fringe at best.

But in fact the proposed mechanisms weren’t observed, so it is a failed theory.

Jason Major June 6, 2013 at 3:16 PM

I was being generous with the term “alternative.”

SirWilhelm June 17, 2013 at 1:44 PM

How generous of you to be so generous.

SirWilhelm June 17, 2013 at 1:43 PM

What evidence do you have that EU theory is not viable? Especially since this article’s observations, and conclusions, fit right in with EU theory, which is why he had to make his denial.

Peristroika June 5, 2013 at 6:01 PM

Yeah, I’m not much with electrical math but for a super Jupiter, that power level struck me as insufficient too. Thanks for the confirmation.

Michael Gmirkin June 5, 2013 at 7:39 PM

Heh, I love pre-emptive hand-waving dismissals…. ^_^

They amuse me. Kind of anti-science isn’t it, to be closed-minded to alternative possibilities? That all I’ll say.

William Sparrow June 5, 2013 at 9:48 PM

Alternative possibilities such as a flat earth or Creationism? That’s all I’ll say….

SirWilhelm June 17, 2013 at 1:41 PM

Doesn’t it make you wonder, why he would even mention EU theory, let alone try to dismiss it? Shouldn’t it make you curious about what EU theory is about, since his whole discovery is about currents in space, and how they heat these “Jupiters”, and currents in space, are a core element of EU theory? Are you aware that you can’t have magnetism without electrical flow, and vice versa? Why do you find it necessary to demonize EU theory, by comparing it to flat earth belief, and Creationism? Is it because you believe everyone should believe as you do? Is belief like that scientific? What you say, is negative. Is that because you have nothing positive to say?

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