NASA Hubble spots hot comet-like planet

Astronomers call hot orb a “cometary planet”

nasa hubble cometary planet
Is it a planet or a comet? Astronomers are calling a newly explored scorched object a "cometary planet" because it has the components of a planet but with a tail like a comet.

Astronomers from the University of Colorado in Boulder using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope say the planet, named HD 209458b, is orbiting so close to its star that its heated atmosphere is escaping into space, creating a tail-like appearance.  

NASA telescopes watch cosmic violence, mysteries unravel

The planet, located 153 light years from Earth, weighs slightly less than Jupiter but orbits 100 times closer to its star than the giant planet. The roasted planet zips around its star in 3.5 days, astronomers stated.

The astronomers used  Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) to detect the heavy elements carbon and silicon in the planet's super-hot 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit atmosphere. Observations showed the parent star is heating the entire atmosphere, dredging up the heavier elements and allowing them to escape the planet, the researchers stated.

"We found gas escaping at high velocities, with a large amount of this gas flowing toward us at 22,000 miles per hour," said astronomer Jeffrey Linsky of the University of Colorado in a statement. "This large gas flow is likely gas swept up by the stellar wind to form the comet-like tail trailing the planet."

Hubble's spectrograph has the ability to probe a planet's chemistry at ultraviolet wavelengths not accessible to ground-based telescopes, Linsky said. COS is proving to be an important instrument for probing the atmospheres of what astronomers call "hot Jupiters" like HD 209458b. Hot Jupiters are known for their deep mass and extreme temperatures. 

In fact NASA's star-gazing space telescope Kepler has spotted at least five new hot Jupiter planets. They range in size from about the same size as Neptune to larger than Jupiter and have orbits ranging from 3.3 to 4.9 days, NASA stated. The orbs likely have no known living organisms because NASA estimates their temperatures to range from 2,200 to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than molten lava and all five orbit stars hotter and larger than Earth's sun.

Astronomers noted that while HD 209458b is being roasted by its star, it won't be destroyed anytime soon. "It will take about a trillion years for the planet to evaporate," Linsky added. More information about the cometary planet can be found in the July 10 issue of Astrophysical Journal.

In contrast NASA recently spotted 14 of the coldest stars in the known universe.  Those 14 objects were found by NASA's Spitzer spacecraft and  are hundreds of light-years away and  are thought to have temperatures 350 to 620 degrees Fahrenheit that NASA called bitter cold for stars -- as cold, in some cases, as planets around other stars.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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