Washington: An Indian scientist Thursday announced the discovery of carbon-rich planet orbiting a distant star about 1200 light years away from the earth, a find that throws open the possibilities of existence of diamond-studded stars.
Nikku Madhusudhan, a Benares Hindu University alumini, and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently measured the first-ever planetary atmosphere that is substantially enriched in carbon.
"The researchers found that the carbon-to-oxygen ratio of WASP-12b, an exoplanet about 1.4 times the mass of Jupiter and located about 1,200 light years away, is greater than one," Madhusudhan, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, reported in a paper published in 'Nature' today.
This carbon-rich atmosphere backs the possibility that exoplanets could be made up of pure carbon rocks like diamond or graphite rather than the silica-based rock found in Earth.
Although WASP-12b is a Jupiter-sized, extremely hot exoplanet, that is largely made of gas and has no surface to host life, the first-ever finding of a carbon-rich exoplanet is significant because it introduces an entirely new class of exotic exoplanets to explore, the researchers said.
Madhusudhan used a computational technique developed by him two years ago by while he was at MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Cambridge, Massachusetts, to analyse the atmosphere of the planet.
"This is new territory and will motivate researchers to study what the interiors of carbon-rich planets could be made of," he said.
The discovery suggests that chunks of rock called planetesimals that slammed together to form WASP-12b billions of years ago may have been made of carbon-rich compounds like tar -? a far cry from the watery, icy planetesimals that are thought to have formed the solar-system planets.
Scientists used US space agency NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to observe light emitted by the planet WASP12, discovered in 2009 by researchers in the UK-based consortium called Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP).
First Published: Friday, December 10, 2010, 00:33