Hubble Spots Pitch Black Planet that Eats Light

Hubble observes exoplanet so dark that it absorbs 94 percent of the visible starlight that falls on it

Hubble catches a glimpse WASP-12b, an almost pitch-black exoplanet

"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".

In this respect, WASP-12b is in good company.

Moreover, the Hubble Space Telescope is a project of global cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency.

This time, the super efficient telescope has spotted a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space.

The study which details their findings, "The Very Low Albedo of WASP-12b from Spectral Eclipse Observations with Hubble", was recently published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Now, Taylor Bell, from McGill University University in Canada, and colleagues used the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) on the Hubble Space Telescope to measure WASP-12b's albedo at several different wavelengths.

WASP-12b orbits so close to its star that it is heated to a record-breaking 2500°C. It circles a Sun-like star residing 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Auriga. At a distance of just 3.4 million km (2.115 million mi), or 0.0229 AU, it takes a little over a day to complete a single orbit. Because WASP-12b is so close to its star, the gravitational pull of WASP-12a is said to have "stretched" WASP-12b into an egg shape and raised the temperature of its daylight side to 2,600 degrees Celsius.

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Therefore, clouds probably can not form to reflect light back into space. Most of the light that falls on the pitch black planet penetrates deep into the atmosphere, where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted into heat energy.

The data gathered by the scientists allowed them to determine whether the planet reflects more light towards the blue or the red end of the spectrum. However, the observations did not detect reflected light, meaning that the daytime side of the planet is absorbing nearly all the starlight falling onto it.

As Bell explained in a NASA press statement, this was quite the unusual find: "We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet", he said. It's also not the darkest known exoplanet - that award goes to TrES-2b, another hot Jupiter, which has an albedo of 0.0136.

An artist's impression of WASP 12-b being slowly consumed as a result of its ridiculously tight orbit around its star. Previous Hubble observations of the day/night boundary detected evidence of water vapor and possibly clouds and hazes in the atmosphere.

Taylor Bell, lead researcher of the study says, "This new Hubble research further demonstrates the vast diversity among the odd population of hot Jupiters". "There are other hot Jupiters that have been found to be remarkably black, but they are much cooler than WASP-12b".

The side that receives the most light reaches temperatures that are too hot for clouds and alkali metals to form. 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.

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