Thursday, February 25, 2010

Strange planets outside our solar system - Part 1

Nothing lasts forever, and this also includes the planets meaning that even our good old mother Earth will one day disappear into space dust. But how does the final stage of some planet's life look like? This mainly depends on the event that caused the destroy of the planet, so it varies from case to case, and through this article I will tell you about the latest rather fascinating discovery where an international group of astrophysicists has come to the conclusion that a massive planet outside our Solar System is being distorted and destroyed by its host star.

This was really once in a life time opportunity for scientists to witness the final stage of life of some planet. The planet was named WASP 12-b, it was first discovered in 2008, is one of the most fascinating in group of more than 400 planets that have been found outside our Solar System in the last 15 years.

This planet orbits a star, quite similar to our Sun regarding mass, it is large and gaseous planet somewhat comparable to planets like Jupiter and Saturn. But being large and gaseous are only similarities between this planet and planets like Jupiter and Saturn, and there is one huge difference involved. This difference is that this planet orbits its parent star at extremely close range, around 75 times closer than the Earth is to the Sun, or just over 1 million miles.

WASP 12-b orbiting

Current astrophysical models are not able to answer why this planet is so huge ( its mass is estimated to be almost 50% larger than Jupiter's) because according to these models this planet should be significantly smaller. It is also extremely hot with a daytime temperature of more than 2500°C.

Scientists still fail to explain what has lead to such a expansion of size of this planet. Being so close to orbiting star means that gravitational forces on this planet are enormous, and tidal forces alone are so powerful that they are able to change the complete shape of this planet.

This tidal forces are not only causing change in planet's shape but will be also responsible for destroying the planet since they also create friction in the planet's interior, and this friction produces heat, which results in planet's expansion. Because of this effect this planet has ballooned to such a point that it cannot retain its mass against the pull of its parent star's gravity, and at this rate this planet will completely perish in about ten million years from now. This may sound like a very long period but it is in fact very small lifespan for planet, for instance this planet will live less than 500 times less than the current age of the Earth.


Anonymous,  October 23, 2010 at 5:56 AM  

this is very interesting but what is the name of the planet