Friday, May 28, 2010

Star Devours Planet

The hottest-known planet in our galaxy is being stretched into the shape of a football and rapidly consumed by its parent star, new observations from the Hubble Space Telescope show.

The extrasolar planet on the cosmic menu, called WASP-12b, may only have another 10 million years left before it is completely devoured, Hubble scientists announced Thursday.

WASP-12b is so close to its sun-like star that it is superheated to nearly 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit and stretched into an elongated shape by enormous tidal forces.

Because of those phenomenal forces, the planet's atmosphere has ballooned to nearly three times Jupiter's radius and is pouring material onto its parent star. WASP-12b 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. The system was observed with the new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) instrument on Hubble.

"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," said team leader Carole Haswell of The Open University in the United Kingdom.

The distortion of the planet by the star's gravity was first predicted in a paper published in February in the journal Nature by Shu-lin Li of Peking University in Beijing. That work predicted that the gravitational tidal forces working on the planet would make its interior so hot that it greatly expands the planet's outer atmosphere.

Now Hubble has confirmed this prediction.

Can you imagine what seeing this from the bridge of a Starship would be like?

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Today I'm with my friend, fellow journalist and bestselling RRP author of Love's Chance, Angela Kaye Austin. She asked me a few questions on how I go about researching and then writing my SFR stories. So I have given her a few of my views. This article -- about Science Fiction and Science Fiction Romance -- is up on Romancing the Pen. Just click on over and take a look!

Romancing the Pen ~HERE~
My SFR Website ~HERE~

See you around the Galaxy!

Kaye Manro


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