Astronomers have found a dusty tail streaming off a faraway alien planet, suggesting that the tiny, scorching-hot world is indeed falling apart.
Image: This artist’s concept depicts a cometlike tail of a possible disintegrating super Mercury-size planet candidate as it transits, or crosses, its parent star, named KIC 12557548. At an orbital distance of only twice the diameter of its star, the surface temperature of the potential planet is so high, the surface would melt and evaporate, according to the results of a study. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
In May, researchers announced the detection of a possibly distintegrating exoplanet, a roughly Mercury-size world being boiled away by the intense heat of its parent star. Now, a different team has found strong evidence in support of the find — a massive dust cloud shed by the planet, similar to the tail of a comet.
Both studies used observations from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which spots alien planets by flagging the telltale brightness dips caused when they pass in front of their parent stars from the instrument’s perspective.