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28 May 2010

OU team finds planet being devoured by its star

Artist's concept

Artist's concept

An international team of astronomers led by a group at The Open University has found that the hottest planet ever discovered, WASP-12b, is being consumed by its host star. Their observations confirm previous theoretical work that the gas on the surface of WASP-12b is being dragged towards its host Sun-like star. This discovery brings us greater understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary systems.

WASP-12b’s closest star heats the planet up to a temperature of about 2,200 degrees Centigrade and distorts its shape by increasing the size of its atmosphere. The result is a planet that looks like a hot rugby ball, three times the size of Jupiter.

The research also detected, for the first time, the presence of elements such as magnesium and aluminium on a planet outside our solar system.

The findings were made by analysing data collected with a new Hubble Space Telescope instrument called the Cosmic Origin Spectrograph (COS), with supplementary data provided by the OU's PIRATE robotic telescope. The research was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, NASA and the University.

Two Open University astronomers, Dr Luca Fossati and Dr Carole Haswell, led the observations and performed the analysis leading to the discovery, working also with OU colleague Dr Ulrich Kolb and OU research students Stefan Holmes and Andrew Carter.

The research has been published in the The Astrophysical Journal: click here.

Ends

The Open University supports a vibrant research portfolio and in the UK's latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), it climbed 23 places to 43rd, securing a place in the UK's top 50 higher education institutions. Results showed that more than 50% of the OU’s research is internationally excellent (3*), with a significant proportion world-leading (4*).

Open Research Online (ORO), the OU’s freely accessible repository of research publications, is available at: http://oro.open.ac.uk. ORO has around 30,000 visitors from 170 different countries each month, and is currently ranked the fifth in the UK by the Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR).

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