Star Gobbles Planet

Written by The Night Sky Guy on May 25, 2010 – 2:49 pm -

The hottest known planet in the Milky Way galaxy may also be its shortest-lived world. The doomed planet is being eaten by its parent star, according to observations made by a new instrument on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS). The planet may only have another 10 million years left before it is completely devoured.

WASP-12 is a yellow dwarf star located approximately 600 light-years away in the winter constellation Auriga. The hot planet is so close to the star it completes an orbit in 1.1 days.

The planet, called WASP-12b, is so close to its Sun-like star that it is superheated to nearly 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit and stretched into a football shape by enormous tidal forces. The atmosphere has ballooned to nearly three times Jupiter’s radius and is spilling material onto the star. The planet is 40 percent more massive than Jupiter.

This effect of matter exchange between two stellar objects is commonly seen in close binary star systems, but this is the first time it has been seen so clearly for a planet.  “We see a huge cloud of material around the planet which is escaping and will be captured by the star. We have identified chemical elements never before seen on planets outside our own solar system,” says team leader Carole Haswell of The Open University in Great Britain.

Check out this short video interview with astronomer discussing discovery of a star which is devouring one of its orbiting planets.


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