Hubble catches planet being devoured by its star

Hubble discovers planet in process of being devoured by the star that it orbits, as per a paper.

Updated: May 25, 2010, 11:04 AM IST

Washington: The Hubble space telescope
has discovered a planet in our galaxy in the process of being
devoured by the star that it orbits, according to a paper
published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The doomed planet, dubbed WASP-12b, has the highest
known surface temperature of any planet in the Milky Way --
around 1,500 degrees Celsius.

But it could be enveloped by its own parent star over
the next ten million years, the paper`s authors have

Using a new instrument called the Cosmic Origins
Spectrograph that was installed on Hubble in 2009, the
researchers observed how the planet was whipped into an
elongated shape by gravitational forces.

"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," team leader Carole Haswell of
The Open University in Great Britain said.

Discovered in 2008, WASP-12b is located about 600
light-years from Earth in the Auriga Constellation and is more
than 300 times the size of Earth.

It also has a mass 40-per cent greater than that of
Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system.

It is so close to its parent star that it orbits it in
little more than 24 hours.

Astronomers already knew that stars will swallow a
planet that comes too close to it, but this is the first time
that the phenomenon has been observed so clearly.

The paper, which was published in the May 10 edition
of The Astrophysical Journal Letters, confirms a theoretical
paper published in the journal Nature last Friday by Shu-lin
Li, an astronomer at Peking University in Beijing.

Shu-lin had predicted that the planet`s surface would
be distorted by the star`s gravitational pull, and that
gravitational tidal forces would make the interior so hot that
it would greatly expand its outer atmosphere.