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Space Science

A Planet Literally Boils Under the Heat of Its Star 163

Posted by Soulskill
from the cosmic-recycling-project dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "Astronomers have found what appears to be a planet so hot it's literally vaporizing, boiling away from the heat of its star. KIC 12557548b was found using the transit method, periodically blocking some light from its star as it orbits around. But the amount of light blocked changes every transit. Given it's less than a million miles from the surface of the star, astronomers interpret this (PDF) as the planet itself turning to vapor, and the expanding cloud of rock-laden gas is what's blocking the starlight. The planet is most likely somewhat bigger than Mercury, but losing 100,000 tons of matter every second it'll only be around another few hundred million years."
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A Planet Literally Boils Under the Heat of Its Star

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  • by Aeros (668253)
    Not a good alpha site?
    • Not a good alpha site?

      Not really.
      If however you are looking for a way to lose that unsightly "equatorial bulge"...

  • by Tsingi (870990)
    Seems like a good place to send all those Lawyer wannabe Astronauts.
    Hey, it would be a good start.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I already purchased a lot there to build a vacation bungalow. How can I sue my space real estate agent?

  • 100,000 tons (Score:2, Insightful)

    by SJHillman (1966756)

    "but losing 100,000 tons of matter every second it'll only be around another few hundred million years."

    Is that 100,000 tons at Earth-normal gravity or at this much smaller planet's (although possibly denser?) gravity?

    • Re:100,000 tons (Score:5, Informative)

      by AtariEric (571910) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:49PM (#38751106)
      Hopefully, that's metric tons; and therefore mass, not weight.
    • Re:100,000 tons (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rhywden (1940872) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:51PM (#38751148)
      A ton is a unit of mass and thus independent of gravity. I also dare say that we're talking about metric tons here, i.e. 1 ton = 10E3 Kg.
      • by ultranova (717540)

        A ton is a unit of mass and thus independent of gravity.

        Actually, shouldn't an object have a little bit less mass when bound to a gravity well than in deep space since it has lost some of its potential energy (the binding energy of the system)?

      • Re:100,000 tons (Score:4, Insightful)

        by david.given (6740) <dgNO@SPAMcowlark.com> on Thursday January 19, 2012 @02:40PM (#38751930) Homepage Journal

        I'd actually written up a long pedanttastic post on how a ton is defined in terms of pounds and is therefore a unit of weight, while a tonne is defined in terms of kilograms and is therefore a unit of mass; but it looks like they've sneakily redefined the pound (in both the UK and the US) to be a unit of mass. The cads!

        But as ton can be either 1000kg, 907kg, 1016kg, or even one of about five volumes, depending who you ask, I'd strongly recommend the metric spelling for clarity...

        (It is not true I'm a card-carrying member of the Pedant's Society. It's actually made out of plastic.)

        • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

          by viperidaenz (2515578)
          I recommend abandoning this imperial crap and sticking to something a little more universal, say SI units. Then noone has to worry about miss spelling a unit giving it a different value, which is only amplified by the two words sounding the same when spoken.
        • they've sneakily redefined the pound (in both the UK and the US) to be a unit of mass. The cads!

          That just means it's meeting the same fate as the original kilogram.

          In the traditional metric system, now referred to as the Gravitational Metric System [wikipedia.org], kilograms were used to measure force (and the French root for the word even means "weight"). If you wanted to measure mass, then the "hyl" or "metric slug" was used. It was the amount of mass that would accelerate 1 m/s^2 under the force of 1 kilogram!

          The CGP

        • by troon (724114) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @04:28PM (#38753210)

          (It is not true I'm a card-carrying member of the Pedant's Society. It's actually made out of plastic.)

          I think you mean "Pedants' Society", unless you're the sole member.

        • by pclminion (145572)

          The distinction between a pound of force and a pound of pass is just pedantry. Out in space, which is the only place the distinction even matters, the pound is not even the unit which is used. It's ONLY used by people standing on the surface of the planet. For any useful practical purpose the distinction is irrelevant.

          Even when quoting the mass of interstellar objects, the intended meaning of "a pound" is the amount of mass that would produce one pound of force on the surface of the Earth. Otherwise, in ord

        • Assuming 1000kg, wouldn't 100,000 tons then be 100 gigagrams? I've often wondered why we so readily apply an SI prefix to bits and bytes but almost never to things like grams and metres, apart from only 'kilo'.
      • You mean kg, not Kelvin grams.

    • by adamchou (993073)
      i believe you're confusing mass vs. weight. weight is the force being exerted due to gravity. mass is the amount of matter.
    • Yes.

      Now, with that answered, the question still remains if the "years" are Pan Universal Terran Years [codelobe.com], or local orbit cycles. One has to wonder if they even know what our local Universal Timing Coefficient is.

    • by westlake (615356)

      Is that 100,000 tons at Earth-normal gravity or at this much smaller planet's (although possibly denser?) gravity?

      Is this anything worth worrying about when no matter how you calculate the loss the planet will still be around for at least another two or three hundred million years?

    • by neonKow (1239288)

      I don't think you can measure the weight of a planet by its own gravity. Obviously you can't use surface gravity.

  • Holy cow ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:46PM (#38751038) Homepage

    but losing 100,000 tons of matter every second it'll only be around another few hundred million years

    It's numbers like this that really make my head spin.

    Yes, I get that planets are big items, and space is big and vast ... but I can't even begin to imagine the sheer amount of material we're talking about in even just a few hours, let alone the next "few hundred million years".

    Anybody got a car analogy or something which might put these numbers into a little better perspective for those of us who don't work on scales like this?

    I can't even begin to wrap my head around it ... a google search for one of the biggest things I could think of says that a Nimitz [wikipedia.org] class aircraft carrier is about 101,000 tons. I saw one once, and it was utterly huge.

    The idea of something that big boiling off every second for a few hundred million years makes my head hurt.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by omganton (2554342)
      This would equate to losing 20 Hummer H3s worth of mass every second. Now, if only that would happen here on Earth we would have a lot less pricks on the road.
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        This would equate to losing 20 Hummer H3s worth of mass every second.

        I think you're off by a couple of orders of magnitude on that one ... unless an H3 weighs 5000 tons

        I'd say it would be closer to 50,000 H3s per second based on a little quick math and assumption of 2 tons each.

      • I also hate 'mall utility vehicle' drivers. They are almost as lame as hybrid drivers.

      • by Nimey (114278)

        What's that in pinballs or Libraries of Congress?

    • Re:Holy cow ... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by meekg (30651) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:57PM (#38751272) Homepage

      well, think about (hypothetically) zooming out from the Nimitz on Google Earth - how much you have to zoom out even after the Nimitz (all 300 m of it) before you see the full Earth.

      Each 1 km x 1km area would pack about 30 Nimitzes. Each 1000 km x 1000 km area would pack about 30,000,000 Nimitzes. And that's just the surface... The Earth is (gasp!) as thick as it is wide, and denser at the center... So yeah. BIG.

    • ok, think of it this way, if a library of congress weighs 100 tons, the planet loses 1000 of them per second.
    • For context, thats about 1 large oil tanker every 5 seconds. Its a lot, but think how puny an oil tanker is compared to the size of the ocean, and then factor in that thats only surface area.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        For context, thats about 1 large oil tanker every 5 seconds. Its a lot, but think how puny an oil tanker is compared to the size of the ocean, and then factor in that thats only surface area.

        Yeah, and I think that's the part where the ability to actually envision this breaks down for me ... intellectually I get what you're telling me. But my brain just sorta wobbles in trying to reconcile that.

        I think you need to work with numbers like that a lot before you can internalize it and not get swamped by them ..

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Imagine a sugar cube, 1cm x 1cm x 1cm. Now imagine a line of ten of them. About the length of your hand, maybe. Now imagine ten lines of ten, on a table, next to eachother, forming a square. That's 100. Like a small square plate. Now stack ten of those squares. That's a cube of 1000 sugar cubes. Smaller than your head. Now imagine a line of ten of those larger cubes. If you spread your arms out a little, you can touch both ends, it's just a metre long. Now imagine ten of those larger lines next to eachot

          • by xaxa (988988)

            At my school (and most other schools in the UK, I think -- they're pretty standard) we had "hundreds, tens and units" to play with (aged about 5). Mostly we arranged them into squares, cubes etc -- just as you've explained (though we didn't have a million).

            The units were 1cm cubes, the tens a stick, the hundreds a square, and thousands a cube. The "thousands" cube was hollow, and (of course) held a litre of water. Place value, decimal system, and the metric system, all at once :-) Here they are [letmelearn.co.uk].

            For a di

          • by yurtinus (1590157)
            Am I the only one reading this that really wants a cup of tea right now?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Wikipedia says the displacement of the Nimitz is 100,000 long tons, which is equivalent to 3.5*10^7 cubic feet. The surface area of the earth, by my calculations, is 5.5*10^16 square feet. If the entire earth were made of Nimitz carriers and the material loss of 1 Nimitz carrier was evenly distributed across the entire globe, we would be losing on average (3.5*10^7 / 5.5*10^16 = ) 6.2x10^-10 feet of material off the top of each one of them every second. Over a year the loss is approximately 1/5th of an inch

    • by dcollins (135727)

      My rough calculation is that it's analogous to about one-millionth of a square millimeter of a flake of paint being blown off your car every second. (About the same scale as the Nimitz compared to the surface of the Earth.) It's going to take some time.

      What I'm a little wierded out by is that this difference is noticeable by the transit light-detection.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        What I'm a little wierded out by is that this difference is noticeable by the transit light-detection.

        I'm a little weirded out by the fact that you have a starting point to come up with a rough calculation for that. :-P

        I think the visibility in the transit light-detection I get a little more ... it's an ever expanding ball of gas, no? So it's going to be blocking a lot more light on every pass. At least, I think.

        I find this with astronomy ... I can understand the concept, but when we get down to the numbe

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The Sun converts 4.3 million tons of matter PER SECOND into energy!

    • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @02:17PM (#38751582) Journal

      "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." -- Douglas Adams, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

      And really, it applies not just to distances, but masses, speeds, etc. As a rule of thumb, if it even deserves being mentioned in astronomy, it's frikken mind-bogglingly big.

      The Earth, for example, is 6x10^24 kg, so basically 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. Or about 600,000,000,000,000,000 Nimitzes.

      Or more to the point of the planet being discussed here, they say it's a little bigger than Mercury, which in turn is 3.3x10^23 kg. I.e., 330,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons.

      Yeah, that's the kind of numbers that astronomy is about. Well, not really. These are small planets. Now stars and black holes and galaxies, that's the real bread and butter. And you can pretty much stick the zero key down and go brew some coffee, if you want to write the weights for that.

      And then come the distances, yes. Douglas Adams was certainly up to something there.

      You know where in Men In Black, agent K says, "You want to stay away from that guy. He's, uh, he's grouchy. A three hour delay in customs after a trip for 17 trillion miles is gonna make anybody cranky." You'd think 17 trillion miles is half-way across the galaxy, right? Actually the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 25 trillion miles away. So that alien would have had to make a stop at some cosmic gas station in between, if he only had a 17 trillion miles trip.

      It's things like these that... well, let's just say they seriously put the kibosh on most nerds "we should totally do some SF thing right now" scenarios. E.g., since we talk mass, there are all the "oh, let's terraform [insert planet]" stupidities. Yeah, I don't think any of those actually calculated how many trillions of tons of ice comets they'd have to divert into Mars to make oceans and whatever their fantasy scenario involves. (There are 1.4x10^18 tons of water on Earth for example.) Nor where they'd come from, nor what the energy budget for that would be.

      • by Scutter (18425)

        "Yeah, I don't think any of those actually calculated how many trillions of tons of ice comets they'd have to divert into Mars to make oceans and whatever their fantasy scenario involves. (There are 1.4x10^18 tons of water on Earth for example.) Nor where they'd come from, nor what the energy budget for that would be.

        Just change the gravitational constant of the universe. Duh.

      • by painandgreed (692585) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @03:51PM (#38752738)

        Yeah, I don't think any of those actually calculated how many trillions of tons of ice comets they'd have to divert into Mars to make oceans and whatever their fantasy scenario involves.

        I did that once on an RPG forum. I think I was just giving Mars an Earth-like atmospheric pressure from local carbon dioxide and comets assumed to be about the size of Haley's (assumed to all be made of frozen gasses) from someplace in the Kuniper Belt. Anyway, just to get those comets to Mars in ten years would require the total energy output of the sun for three days. Then I started figuring out how big the solar panels would have to be at a really good efficiency and how long they would have to be there to gather that energy. Then there was the question of the mass of those solar panels and where it all came from the the energy needed to construct them. Ya, mindboggling stuff that isn't getting done in our greatgrandchild's time even if we all worked on getting it done from now on. It sort of blew the OPs idea of a near current terraformed Mars right out of the water.

        • by yurtinus (1590157)
          Buzzkill.
          • Well, he was asking what it would take to terraform Mars. I'm not one to be messing with somebodies assumed setting for a game they want to run, but if you ask such a question to a physics geek, don't be surprised when they give you an answer.
    • by Wiarumas (919682)
      I keep hearing about these wild planets and I can't help but desire to see what it would look like (safely) from the surface. The one panoramic picture I have of Mars is absolutely stunning - but relatively speaking, its a somewhat boring landscape. I would love to see Titan for example.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ultranova (717540)

      Anybody got a car analogy or something which might put these numbers into a little better perspective for those of us who don't work on scales like this?

      The planet loses mass at a somewhat lesser pace than humanity burns through oil (100,000 vs. 133,000 tons per second). Take that, alien sun!

      • by xaxa (988988)

        Anybody got a car analogy or something which might put these numbers into a little better perspective for those of us who don't work on scales like this?

        The planet loses mass at a somewhat lesser pace than humanity burns through oil (100,000 vs. 133,000 tons per second). Take that, alien sun!

        We use about 4.9 km^3 per year. Oil has a density of about 0.9kg/L, so that gives us 4.41 x 10^12 kg per year.

        Or, about 140,000 kg/second.

        So you are correct, although I did doubt your figures at first.

        (Also, could the USA please stop measuring oil in volume, which changes density depending on composition, pressure and temperature. Also, please stop using archaic units like "bbl".)

    • by fritsd (924429)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by archen (447353)

      Anybody got a car analogy or something which might put these numbers into a little better perspective for those of us who don't work on scales like this?

      Space is like a car so big that you can't comprehend it.

    • If this planet were a hot car driving down the highway, the boiling mass would be about a 100 bacteria falling off it every second. And each and every one of them is of the very finest British manufacture.

    • A large quarry might extract 5 or 10 million tonnes annually. Lets say 10 million tonnes for ease of use.
      That is about 10/52, meh call it 200,000 tonnes a week.
      200,000/7 about 30,000 a day.
      30,000/24 about 1200 an hour
      1200/60 about 20 a minute
      20/60 about 1/3 a second.

      0.33 x 100,000 tonnes/sec = 33,000...

      Sooooooo its like about 33,000 very large quarries digging up the planet.

      No idea how many we have currently operating on Earth. Of course we aren't vaporizing it and ejecting into space either.

  • How do they come up with star names? Are they named after some Microsoft OS update.
  • If it was that close to begin with, how'd it coalesce into a planet in the first place? Either this planet has been spiraling in for eons, it's a victim of a collision, or the star has been getting warmer since planet formation.
    • Could have fallen into a lower orbit? Or maybe it was originally n orphan planet which got captured by the newly formed star's gravitational pull.

    • Well, similar fate waits for Earth (Sun will turn into a red giant), so my bet is the star is getting hotter. When stars run out of hydrogen and helium, and start fusing heavier elements, they get hotter. When the fusion stops, it becomes a dwarf. Of course the lifecycle of a star heavily depends on the initial size, so this only applies to Sun type stars.

    • You are aware that once our planet spun far faster and that far away moon practically skimmed the tree tops? Things change, the world we know as earth would have been unregonizable a few hundred million years ago, which for astronomy is yesterday.

  • by SebaSOFT (859957) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @02:04PM (#38751366) Homepage

    Anyone else got the planet Crematoria in it's mind?

  • The title of this article currently is "A Planet Literally Boils Under the Heat of Its Star".. It should probably say "A Planet that Literally Boils Under the Heat of Its Star".. To clarify that not every planet boils under the heat of it's star..
    • by geekoid (135745)

      I was waas pleased the used literally correctly. I mean, my brain literally exploded out of my head with pleasure~

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      "A planet" is singular. There is one planet, not all planets.

      If the headline said "Planets Literally Boil Under the Heat of Their Stars," then you might have something.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Yes, but that singular noun could be used as a hypothetical instance to describe all such objects. For example: "A doctor makes a good living," or "A policeman is like a vampire: You don't invite him into your home."

        Not that I agree with the OP that the headline is wrong or misleading! Because that's not necessarily what the headline means. My point is that it could mean that, or other things too, pretty much like 99% of all sentences in English. Seems like it's pretty easy to figure out which was me

  • I strongly recommend reading the abstract, it's very descriptive and easy to understand I wish more abstracts were like that.

    By the way, what's the deal with describing them simply as "astronomers"? Better than the all-too-often-used "scientists" I suppose, but wouldn't it be even nicer to write "a team of astronomers led by Saul Rappaport from M.I.T."? Scientists are people with names, and the more we use them the more we raise the status of pursuing a scientific career. Science needs more superstars!
    • by Scutter (18425)

      By the way, what's the deal with describing them simply as "astronomers"? Better than the all-too-often-used "scientists" I suppose, but wouldn't it be even nicer to write "a team of astronomers led by Saul Rappaport from M.I.T."? Scientists are people with names, and the more we use them the more we raise the status of pursuing a scientific career. Science needs more superstars!

      I prefer to call them "scienticians". As in: "Ascuse me, Mr. Scientician, but I ordered this latte with no cinnamon. Can you please re-make it? Thanks."

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @03:03PM (#38752182)

    Using telescopes to peer at super-hot stars stripping their companions usually gets you arrested.

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