A potential alien planet that is so close to its parent star that it appears to be disintegrating from the scorching heat was recently found by a team of astronomers. The planetary candidate is only slightly larger than the planet Mercury, and researchers estimate that it is shedding so much material that it could completely disintegrate within 100 million years.
Astronomers at NASA and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) detected the tiny planet, which is located roughly 1,500 light-years away, using data from the planet-hunting Kepler mission. As the possible planet evaporates, researchers theorize that it is followed by a trail of dust and debris, similar to the tail of a comet.
The dusty planet circles its host star once every 15 hours, which indicates that the star, named KIC 12557548, likely heats the planet to blistering temperatures of about 3,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,982 degrees Celsius). The researchers hypothesize that under these conditions, the planet's rocky material melts and evaporates, creating a trailing wind of gas and dust in space.
"We think this dust is made up of submicron-sized particles," study leader Saul Rappaport, a professor emeritus of physics at MIT, said in a statement. "It would be like looking through a Los Angeles smog.""
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