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.
7 Incredible Discoveries By Cassini
Cassini has been getting up close to Saturn’s planet-sized moon, Titan. Taking incredible photographs and learning more about its dunes, mountains and seas of pure liquid methane (definitely not for swimming). Not to mention the 95% nitrogen atmosphere.
Just like our home planet, Saturn has powerful magnetic fields at its poles that create shimmering auroras, and for the first time Cassini was able to capture these incredible (and pretty intimidating) images of the glowing-pink Southern lights.
Not only are Saturn’s poles decorated with beautiful auroras, they also have violent swirling storms with an (unusual) six-sided jet stream that creates these hexagonal weather patterns. But you don’t want to get too close, as NASA found the eye of hurricanes on Saturn are 50 times wider than those on Earth.
Hyperion is the largest of Saturn’s “potato-shaped” moons and is likely to be the result of a violent collision that shattered a larger object into pieces. The sponge-like appearance means it has an unusually low density for such a large object — about half that of water – and any material that comes into contact with it gets blown off, never to return.
Pre-Cassini, scientists didn’t understand why Encleadus was the brightest world in the solar system. But Cassini found it has a huge ocean of salty liquid water hidden beneath a surface of ice with exploding hydrothermal vents that send sporadic plumes of water shooting out into space. It is also one of the most promising locations for extra terrestrial life…
Saturn’s two-toned moon, Lapetus, is surrounded in a cloud of reddish dust that gets swept around in orbit giving it a hellish colour. But that’s not the strangest find, for the first time Cassini photographed a topographic ridge that runs along the equator. No one knows yet whether this is a mountain or a crack in the surface.
Cassini’s final mission has required getting closer to Saturn than ever before, dropping from a normal altitude of 1,000,000km above to just 120,000km. Although this did require Cassini to enter a “death plunge” and sacrifice itself, it has also resulted in the most intricate images of Saturn’s B rings ever recorded, clearly showing the spiral density waves.