An artist’s impression of WASP-121b, a “hot Jupiter” spewing iron and magnesium gas into space. The super-heated exoplanet planet is being deformed by extreme tidal forces and may be on the verge of being ripped apart. Image: NASA, ESA and J. Olmsted (STSci)
The Hubble Space Telescope has detected heavy metals – iron and magnesium gas – flowing away from a “hot Jupiter” 900 light years away that is orbiting so close to its host star that the exoplanet’s upper atmosphere is heated to a hellish 2,500 degrees Celsius (4,600 Fahrenheit).
Completing one orbit every 1.3 days at a distance of just 3.8 million kilometres (2.4 million miles) from its parent star, the planet, known as WASP-121b, is on the verge of being ripped apart by tidal forces. As it is, the gas giant is likely being gravitationally warped to the point that it would resemble an American football to a nearby observer.
Most other known Jupiter-class exoplanets orbiting close to their host suns remain cool enough deep inside for heaving elements to condense into clouds and remain in place. But that’s apparently not the case with WASP-121b.
“Heavy metals have been seen in other hot Jupiters before, but only ...