WASP-12b is the first carbon-rich world ever observed. It is an extremely hot and large gas giant orbiting another star and it has unusual amount of carbon.
Carbon is a common component of planetary systems and a key ingredient of life on Earth.
Does it mean some kind of life might exist on WASP-12b?
Scientists believe the planet could be a very different place...
"This planet reveals the astounding diversity of worlds out there," said Nikku Madhusudhan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge,
lead author of a report in the Dec. 9 issue of the journal Nature. "Carbon-rich planets would be exotic in every way -- formation, interiors and atmospheres."
The discovery was made using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, along with previously published ground-based observations.
It is possible that WASP-12b might harbor graphite, diamond, or even a more exotic form of carbon in its interior, beneath its gaseous layers.
Astronomers do not yet posses technology to observe the cores of exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars beyond our sun, but their theories hint at
these intriguing possibilities.
The research also supports theories that carbon-rich rocky planets much less massive than WASP-12b could exist around other stars.
Our Earth has rocks like quartz and feldspar, which are made of silicon and oxygen plus other elements.
A carbon-rich rocky planet could be a very different place.
"A carbon-dominated terrestrial world could have lots of pure carbon rocks, like diamond or graphite, as well as carbon compounds like tar,"
said Joseph Harrington of the University of Central Florida, in Orlando, who is the principal investigator of the research.
Astronomers often measure carbon-to-oxygen ratios to get an idea of a star's chemistry. Our sun has a carbon-to-oxygen ratio of about
one to two, which means it has about half as much carbon as oxygen.
None of the planets in our solar system is known to have more carbon than oxygen, or a ratio of one or greater. However, this ratio is
unknown for Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Unlike WASP-12b, these planets harbor water -- the main oxygen carrier -- deep inside
their atmospheres, making it hard to detect.
This artist's concept shows the searing-hot gas planet WASP-12b (orange orb) and its star. NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope
discovered that the planet has more carbon than oxygen, making it the first carbon-rich planet ever observed. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
WASP-12b is the first planet ever to have its carbon-to-oxygen ratio measured at greater than one (the actual ratio is most likely
between one and two). This means the planet has excess carbon, some of which is in the form of atmospheric methane.
"When the relative amount of carbon gets that high, it's as though you flip a switch, and everything changes," said Marc Kuchner,
an astronomer at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., who helped develop the theory of carbon-rich rocky planets but is not associated with the study.
"If something like this had happened on Earth, your expensive engagement ring would be made of glass, which would be rare, and the
mountains would all be made of diamonds."
WASP-12b derives its name from the consortium that found it, the Wide Angle Search for Planets. It is 1.4 times as massive as
Jupiter and located roughly 1,200 light-years away from Earth.
This blistering world whips around its star in a little over a day, with one side always facing the star. It is so close to
its star that the star's gravity stretches the planet into an egg-like shape. What's more, the star's gravity is siphoning
mass off the planet into a thin disk that orbits around with it.
The Spitzer data also reveal more information about WASP-12b's temperature. The world was already known to be one of the
hottest exoplanets found so far; the new observations indicate that the side that faces the star is 2,600 Kelvin, or 4,200
degrees Fahrenheit. That is more than hot enough to melt steel.
If some kind of life exist on WASP-12b it is different from anything we have ever encountered before and probably beyond our imagination.
Most Alien World We Can Only Imagine
This is not an alien world, anyone of us will ever be able to visit.
It's not very far away, only about 40 light years from Earth, but it circles dangerously close to a stellar inferno, completing one orbit in only 18 hours. The alien planet named "55 Cancri e" is 26 times closer
to its parent star than Mercury is to the Sun. The temperature on the surface of 55 Cancri e is estimated to be as high as 2,700 degrees Celsius.
Abnormal Star Discovered In The 'Forbidden Zone'
A team of astrophysicists from Germany, France and Italy have discovered in the constellation Leo is an old star.
The star's existence raised at once many questions for scientists.
The object is definitely not as its "contemporaries" that appeared immediately after the Big Bang event.
The Eyes Of A Future Alien Astronomer - What Will They See?
Have you ever wondered what the Universe will look like for a future alien astronomer?
It will in fact be entirely different from what it is today.
One trillion years from now, an alien astronomer in our galaxy will have great difficulties figuring out how the universe began.
The Milky Way will have merged with the Andromeda galaxy to form the Milkomeda galaxy. Many of its stars, including our Sun, will have burned out.
Violent Dragon Clash Billions Of Years Ago
NGC 5907 is sometimes called the "Splinter" or Knife Edge Galaxy because of its unusual appearance.
It is a spiral galaxy lying in the Dragon constellation,
about 40 million light-years from Earth that could have been formed through a gigantic collision of galaxies, 8 to 9 billion years ago.
The "Cloaked" Star Was Difficult To Find
An object obscured by dust, and buried in a two-star system enshrouded by dense gas, is not easy to find.
A "cloaked" star was discovered after it ate a little of its neighbor. The meal must have given the star a bit of indigestion, because it
"burped" with a blast of high-energy radiation, which gave it away.
Very Old Cluster Densely Packed With Millions Of Stars
Extensively studied in the literature and one of the oldest known among deep sky objects is NGC 6752.
It is a crowded globular cluster, filled with hundreds of thousands of stars and has its location approximately
13,000 light-years from Earth, in the Pavo constellation...
Invader From Another Galaxy
This alien intruder from another galaxy is in many ways different from other exoplanets observed by astronomers.
Located about 2000 light-years from Earth in the southern constellation of Fornax (the Furnace), the Jupiter-like planet orbits a dying star of
extragalactic origin and risks to be engulfed by it.