Hubble Confirms Star is Devouring Hot Exoplanet


We all like a hot meal, but this is really bizarre. Back in February, Jean wrote an article about WASP-12b, the hottest known planet in the Milky Way that is being ripped to shreds by its parent star. Shu-lin Li of the Department of Astronomy at the Peking University, Beijing, predicted that the star’s gravity would distort the planet’s surface and make the interior of the planet so hot that the atmosphere would expand out and co-mingle with the star. Shu-lin calculated the planet would one day be completely consumed. Now the Hubble Space Telescope has confirmed this prediction, and astronomers estimate the planet may only have another 10 million years left before it is completely devoured.

Using the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), and its sensitive ultraviolet instruments, astronomers saw that the star and the planet’s atmosphere share elements, passing them back and forth. “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.

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.

The planet, called WASP-12b, is so close to its sunlike star that it completes an orbit in 1.1 days, and is heated to nearly 1,540 C (2,800 F) 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.

WASP-12 is a yellow dwarf star located approximately 600 light-years away in the winter constellation Auriga.

Haswell and her science team’s results were published in the May 10, 2010 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Science Paper by: L Fossati et al.

Original article on Universe Today by Jean Tate
Original paper by Shu-Lin

Source: HubbleSite

11 Replies to “Hubble Confirms Star is Devouring Hot Exoplanet”

  1. I just want to quote the title Phil Plait from gave his post about this planet:

    Star: om nom nom! Planet: Aieee!


  2. Hot binaries, just how I like them in the summer! 😀

    Just kidding, I think my brain got tickled by yet another series of processes where stars, brown dwarfs, planets and other populations get mixed up.

    We have identified chemical elements never before seen on planets outside our own solar system,

    So hot and spicy, mainly because of gravitational boundedness?

    More evidence for the glorious FSM and the downfall of evil EU.

  3. All I can say is WOW! We might have thought about it, but there isn’t anything as good as seeing the picture!

  4. Crank up the Barbie!

    FYI – FSM = Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an offbeat religion based on Pastafarianism. (Don’t mess with my meatballs Maan!)

    EU = European Union, or to non-believers Electric Universe

    FYI = For Your Information

  5. CodyG, I can only imagine what the real thing looks like. It has to be one of the most amazing sites.

    There are so many things in the universe that we will never see in any real detail or up close it really depresses me. Seeing something as simple as the most common star in the universe, red dwarfs, would be so thrilling. Yet sadly, at least in our lifetimes, we can only dream about what they look like.

    It makes me wonder just how close we are to getting it right. But no matter how close we think we are, it will be about a billion times less spectacular than the real thing. Something like this has to be jaw dropping. I so badly would want to see a 3000 degree planet shaped like a football lol

  6. So it’s stretched into the shape of a football. Therefore it’s spherical. [Non-American joke]

  7. Well, sail4ever, our moon rotates! Otherwise we wouldn’t see always the same face….

  8. I dont think the planet will be completely devoured, unless its orbit decreases aswell.

    I find it likely the planet has a rocky core that will not evaporate with the same ease that the gases do, and unless the planet looses angular momentum fast enough that it will merge with the star within the estimated 10 million years (wich i find unlikely) before only the core is left (my assumption) then the remaining core can keep orbiting for quite much longer time.

    I can be wrong ofc.

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