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Are We Watching a Planet Disintegrate?

27 May 2020, 16:00 UTC
Are We Watching a Planet Disintegrate?
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Among the wealth of exoplanets we’ve discovered beyond our solar system, some are temperate, some less so. New observations have now revealed what may be a particularly inhospitable environment: a planet literally disintegrating as it orbits its host.
Peering Through the Shroud
Artist’s illustration of another DMPP-discovered planetary system, DMPP-2. [Mark A. Garlick/Haswell/ Barnes/Staab/Open University]With initial observations in 2015, the Dispersed Matter Planet Project (DMPP) promised an innovative approach to hunting for exoplanets closely orbiting their hosts. Using high-cadence, high-precision radial velocity measurements, the project targets bright nearby stars that shows signatures of being shrouded in hot circumstellar gas. By looking for tiny radial-velocity wiggles in the star’s signal, the DMPP team hopes to detect small planets that are losing mass as they orbit close to their hot hosts.
In December 2019, DMPP announced its first discoveries: six planets orbiting around three different target stars. Now, in a new publication led by scientist Mark Jones (The Open University, UK), the team has revisited the first of these systems, DMPP-1, with follow-up photometry from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
Intriguingly, the radial-velocity-detected planets are not the only signals from this system.
Missing the Expected, but Finding the Unexpected
DMPP-1 is ...

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