London: Astronomers may soon be able to find exoplanets that are stretched out by the gravity of the stars they orbit.
The team, led by Prabal Saxena of George Mason University, recently described how to detect these exotic worlds in the new research.
Prabal and his team modeled cases where the planets are in orbit close to small red dwarf stars, much fainter than our Sun, but by far the most common type of star in the galaxy.
The planets' rotation was locked, so the worlds keep the same face towards the stars they orbit, much like the Moon does as it moves around the Earth.
According to the scientists, in these circumstances the distortion of the planets should be detectable in transit events, where the planets moves in front of their stars and blocks out some of their light.
If astronomers are able to find these extreme exoplanets, it could give them new insights into the properties of Earth-like planets as a whole.
The subtle signals from stretched rocky planets could be found by some current telescopes, and certainly by much more powerful observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) that are due to enter service in the next few years.
The study is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.