Science

wasp-12b, wasp 12b
NASA/Fredrick Pont
An artist's impression of WASP-12b.

Little-Known Planet Being Devoured by Its Sun

March 01, 2010 04:15 PM
by Colleen Brondou
The WASP-12b, a planet just discovered in 2008, orbits so close to its sun that it’s slowly being evaporated.

Planet Dying a “Violent Death”

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The WASP-12b, a Jupiter-like planet in a solar system outside of ours—about 800 light-years from Earth—circles so close to its sun that the gravity exerted on it is destroying it. This “‘hot Jupiter’-type gas planet” is 75 times closer to its sun than Earth is to our Sun, and has approximately 10 million years left before it is completely destroyed, Megha Satyanarayana writes for the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

As WASP-12b circles its star, gravity pulls the planet into a “football-shaped object,” Jonathan Fortney, a University of California, Santa Cruz, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics, told Satyanarayana. Internal heat and friction cause the planet to expand while the gravitational pull of its star grabs about 6 billion metric tons of material away from the planet per second.

“The solar system we live in is one kind of solar system. We’re finding truly bizarre configurations out there,” Fortney said to Satyanarayana.

Although the slow death of WASP-12b has no impact on Earth, the discovery is useful in learning about planets in other solar systems.

Background: “Hottest Planet Ever Discovered”

Discovery of the WASP-12b was announced in April 2008, Clara Moskowitz reported for LiveScience in October 2008. At 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it is the hottest planet ever discovered, and the fastest to orbit its star.

“This sizzling monster whips its way around its parent star about once a day (for comparison, the fastest-circling planet in the solar system, Mercury, orbits the Sun once every 88 days),” Moskowitz writes.

Related Topic: WASP-18

Like the WASP-12b, the WASP-18 is also a “hot Jupiter” planet, and is dangerously close to its sun—about .02 AU (one AU is the distance from the Earth to the sun). Located roughly 300 light-years away from Earth, WASP-18 is also unusually large, with a mass about 10 times that of Jupiter.

Reference: Astronomy

The findingDulcinea Web Guide to Astronomy links to information on historical and modern astronomy, astronomy news, finding constellations and planets in the night sky, and much more.
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