Giant, Scorching-Hot Alien Planet Is Darker Than Asphalt


The darkness surrounding the planet's atmosphere has been said to be as dark as fresh asphalt. Since being discovered in 2008, the exoplanet has become one of the best studied and most insightful exoplanets ever, and these latest discoveries add to what astronomers know about distant worlds.

The "goth" planet and its star are located some 1,400 light years away from Earth, so it's not exactly feasible to go check it out for ourselves. "You can have planets like WASP-12b that are 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit and some that are 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, and they're both called hot Jupiters".

Moreover, the Hubble Space Telescope is a project of worldwide cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. Previous observations by Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) revealed that the planet may be downsizing.

The researchers determined the planet's light-eating capabilities by using Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph to search in mostly visible light for a tiny dip in starlight as the planet passed directly behind the star.

The results were surprising, according to lead author Taylor Bell from McGill University: "The measured albedo of WASP-12b is 0.064 at most".

WASP-12b which is located almost 2 million miles far from its star has different night time story as it is much cooler and shows the presence of clouds and haze.

A planet orbiting a star 1,400 light-years from Earth is darker than asphalt. It also suggests that the exoplanet is likely two times less reflective than the Earth's moon, which has an albedo of 0.12.

WASP-12b does send out light in one way, however: It's so hot that it glows red.

The new Hubble data indicate that the exoplanet's atmosphere is composed of atomic hydrogen and helium.

"There are other hot Jupiters that have been found to be remarkably black, but they are much cooler than WASP-12b", Bell said. "For those planets, it is suggested that things like clouds and alkali metals are the reason for the absorption of light, but those don't work for WASP-12b because it is so incredibly hot", explains Bell.

But the planet's nighttime side is a different story. It is even hot enough to break up hydrogen molecules into atomic hydrogen which causes the atmosphere to act more like the atmosphere of a low-mass star than like a planetary atmosphere. The atmosphere is rich in hydrogen atoms, which makes the exoplanet have an atmosphere closer to that of a low-mass star.

Scientists believed that the excess high temperature of the planet might have resulted in its low albedo because there is no chance of formation of hot clouds due to the extremely high temperatures and also the alkali metal get ionized. At night the planet cools down to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit which allows clouds and vapour to form, and reflects some light.

WASP-12b is only the second planet to have spectrally resolved albedo measurements, the first being HD 189733b.

The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called "hot Jupiters", huge, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures.