Hubble Discovers Star Eating a Planet

Artist's concept of the exoplanet WASP-12b.
NASA/ESA/G. Bacon

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet being eaten by its parent star. For a minute, that sounds like a throwback to Greek mythology and the story of Cronus eating each of the children as they were born. But this one is for real.

In theory, scientists had previously concluded that planets will get absorbed by stars when they get too near each other. However, this marks the first time that the event has been recorded so clearly. Researchers made their observation by using a new instrument called the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph that was installed on Hubble last year.

The planet in question, called WASP-12b, is found about 600 light-years away in the winter constellation Auriga. This sun-like star is the hottest known planet in the Milky Way galaxy at around 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. Apparently, it is so close to its parent star that it can make the orbit around the star in slightly more than 24 hours.

WASP-12b is also being stretched into the shape of a football by enormous tidal forces. NASA says that the planet's atmosphere has expanded to almost three times Jupiter's radius "and is spilling material onto the star."

But we're likely to get a few more images before the final curtain falls on this show. The planet has another 10 million years of life remaining before it gets devoured completely

The news of the discovery appears in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

  • Charles Cooper On Twitter»

    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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