Science & Environment

Hubble spots a planet-eating star

Planet-eating star
Scientists used Hubble data to create an image of the planet being swallowed

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured evidence of a Sun-like star "eating" a nearby planet.

Astronomers knew that stars were capable of swallowing planets in orbit around them, but this is the first time the event has been "seen" so clearly.

Although the planet was too far away for Hubble to photograph, scientists have created an image of it, based on analysis of the telescope's data.

The discovery was published in the The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The researchers say the planet, which is called Wasp-12b, may only have another 10 million years left before it is completely devoured.

It is so close to its star that it completes an orbit in 1.1 Earth days and is superheated to more than 1,500C.

Because of this proximity, the planet's atmosphere has ballooned to nearly three times the radius of Jupiter and is spilling material on to the star.

Carole Haswell from the UK's Open University led the research team. She explained: "We see a huge cloud of material around the planet which is escaping and will be captured by the star."

Hubble's detection of the cloud enabled scientists to draw conclusions about how it was generated.

Dr Haswell said: "We have identified chemical elements never before seen on planets outside our own Solar System."

Wasp-12 is a dwarf star located approximately 600 light-years away in the constellation Auriga.

The exoplanet was first discovered by the UK's Wide Area Search for Planets (Wasp) in 2008.

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