Star Eats Planet!

Star Eats Planet!

In March I wrote about research published in Nature1 that argued a star was observed shredding one of its planets right before our eyes. Now a more recent study published in the Astrophysical Journal confirms predictions the previous research made about carnivorous star system WASP-12.

The physical dimensions of WASP-12b (the planet under attack) puzzled astronomers in particular. They expected to find WASP-12b’s radius no more than twenty percent larger than Jupiter’s, even though the former’s mass measured forty percent larger than the latter’s. To the researchers’ surprise, WASP-12b measured almost twice the radius of Jupiter. The explanation offered for the planet’s large size involved swelling caused by intense tidal heat from the host star. If this explanation proved correct, then future observations would reveal WASP-12b’s atmosphere extending out to and beyond the place where mass was gravitationally bound to the planet. Consequently, the planet would shed enough mass that it would disintegrate in a few million years.

Observations using the Hubble Space Telescope show such an extended atmosphere. The observations also show that the atmosphere extends beyond the gravitational boundary of the planet, meaning WASP-12b is evaporating right before our eyes.2 Furthermore, these recent observations also identified in WASP-12b’s atmosphere a number of chemical elements (most notably, heavy metals) never seen on planets outside our solar system. It seems that as the host star heats WASP-12b, it also brings the elements deep inside the planet toward the surface. Detection of these elements in the atmosphere lends support to the idea that the star is “eating” the planet. These new observations confirm the key predictions of the model published earlier in Nature, thus demonstrating the strength of the model.

However, the Nature model also further demonstrates the hostility of exoplanets toward life. A key prediction of RTB’s cosmic creation model states that Earth’s capacity to support life is unique and reflects the miraculous work of an intelligent, benevolent God. The stream of evidence from observations of exoplanets like WASP-12b continues to buttress this RTB prediction.

  1. Shu-lin Li et al., “WASP-12b as a Prolate, Inflated and Disrupting Planet from Tidal Dissipation,” Nature 463 (February 25, 2010): 1054–56.
  2. L. Fossati et al., “Metals in the Exosphere of the Highly Irradiated Planet WASP-12b,” Astrophysical Journal 714 (May 10, 2010): L222–L227.