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Bulging stars mess with planet’s seasons

Spring, autumn could be hotter than summer for worlds with tilted orbits

By
12:13pm, June 17, 2016
Altair

STAR SPIN  Rapidly twirling stars such as Altair (shown; interferometer image, left) have an equatorial bulge that makes them emit more light from their poles than their equator, which could create strange seasons on any orbiting planets.

SAN DIEGO — On some planets that orbit whirling stars, spring and autumn might be the best time to hit the beach, whereas summer offers a midyear respite from sweltering heat. These worlds’ orbits can take them over regions of their sun that radiate wildly different amounts of heat. 

“Seasons on a planet like this must be really strange,” says Jonathon Ahlers, a graduate student at the University of Idaho in Moscow, who presented his findings June 15 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

Some stars spin so fast that they bulge in the middle. That bulge pushes the equator away from the blazing core, making it much cooler than the poles. A fraction of these stars also host planets that travel on cockeyed orbits, which take these worlds alternately over the poles and equator of their sun.

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