Academic journal article Science Scope

Death of a Planet

Academic journal article Science Scope

Death of a Planet

Article excerpt

An international group of astrophysicists has determined that a massive planet outside our solar system is being distorted and destroyed by its host star--a finding that helps explain the unexpectedly large size of the planet, WASP-12b. It's a discovery that not only explains what's happening to WASP-12b; it also means scientists have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to observe how a planet enters this final stage of its life.

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WASP-12b, discovered in 2008, is one of the most enigmatic of 400-plus planets that have been found outside our Solar System over the past 15 years. It orbits a star, in the constellation Auriga, roughly similar in mass to our Sun. Like most known extrasolar planets, it is large and gaseous, resembling Jupiter and Saturn in this respect. But unlike Jupiter, Saturn or most other extrasolar planets, it orbits its parent star at extremely close range--75 times closer than the Earth is to the Sun, or just over 1 million miles. It is also larger than astrophysical models would predict. Its mass is estimated to be almost 50% larger than Jupiter's and it's 80% larger, giving it six times Jupiter's volume. It is also unusually hot, with a daytime temperature of more than 2,500[degrees]C.

Some mechanism must be responsible for expanding this planet to such an unexpected size, say the researchers. …

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