A team of researchers, using Hubble’s Space Telescope, have discovered a planet outside of our solar system so dark that it absorbs almost all the light that reaches it.
Wasp-12b is what’s known as a ‘hot Jupiter’. It’s a gas giant that orbits incredibly close to its host star and because it’s tidally locked, the day side of the planet can reach over 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit.
The team, including researchers from McGill University, Canada and Exeter University in the United Kingdom, have been using Hubble’s spectrograph to try and measure the amount of light that’s reflected back from the exoplanet.
What they found was pretty remarkable. The planet is absorbing around 94% of all light that hits it.
Normally planets like this have a split personality. The night side being around 2,000 degrees cooler, allows for clouds to form which in turn then reflects light back into space.
Despite this happening in the case of Wasp-12b, it appears that even with the water vapour developing the planet still reflects back just 6% of light.
Wasp-12b was initially discovered in 2008, however it’s only now that researchers have been able to notice the key differences between these ‘hot Jupiters’ using Hubble.
Sadly this planet’s life is short-lived. Orbiting at a distance of just 2 million miles, it’s being slowly devoured by its host star.
In 2010 it was revealed that Wasp-12b’s atmosphere had ballooned and the planet’s mass was recorded at 40 times that of Jupiter’s.
“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,” says team leader Carole Haswell of The Open University in Great Britain.
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