A Jupiter-sized planet produces a 350,000-mile tail

An artist's view of WASP-69b orbiting its host star. The falling atmosphere forms a comet-like tail behind the planet.
WM Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko

  • Astronomers have observed a shrinking Jupiter-sized planet with a comet-like tail.
  • The planet orbits so close to its host star that its atmosphere boils off.
  • Scientists say studying WASP-69b could teach us about how planets and stars form over time.

Astronomers have a rare opportunity to watch a planet shrink in real time.

The Jupiter-sized planet, located 160 light-years away, orbits its host star so closely that the star is boiling the planet's atmosphere.

The boil is so intense that the Earth has created a comet stretching 350,000 miles behind it, scientists announced Tuesday.

Don't rest on this planet

The planet, called WASP-69b, orbits very close to its star, completing an orbit in less than four days. The star's intense radiation vaporizes the helium gas in the planet's atmosphere.

„It's an extreme environment,” UCLA doctoral student Dakota Tyler, who led the research, told a press conference at the meeting of the American Astronomical Society on Tuesday.

„I suggest you don't consider retiring on this planet,” he joked.

As a result, scientists have calculated that WASP-69b ejects an Earth-equivalent amount every billion years, or about 200,000 tons per second.

The star's „wind” — a stream of charged particles and magnetic fields that constantly buffets the planet — creates a tail of helium gas that stretches at least seven times the planet's width.

This type of shedding may be common in the universe. Scientists think this explains the mysterious gap in the sizes of exoplanets.

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Shrinking worlds with comet-like tails may explain a planetary mystery

Since NASA has cataloged more than 5,000 alien worlds, it has become clear that the two most common types of planets in the universe are super-Earths (those 1.6 times the width of Earth) and sub-Neptunes (about two to four). times the width of the Earth).

But there is no planet between those degrees. Scientists theorize that interplanetary planets are collapsing so quickly that they become super-Earths.

An example shows various possible exoplanets.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

This could be because radiation from the planets' cores pushes away their atmospheres, or because their stars boil the planets' outer layers – evaporating mass over time.

WASP-69b is much larger than a companion Neptune, but it demonstrates the exact boiling behavior that scientists suspected.

Because it is so massive, it takes a long time to lose its atmosphere, giving scientists plenty of time to study it.

Studying this Jupiter-sized world and its long comet-like tail can teach us more about the physics of space, including how planets and their host stars form together over time.

„The WASP-69b system is a gem because it gives us a rare opportunity to study atmospheric mass loss in real time and understand the critical physics that shape thousands of other planets.” Eric Pedicurasaid study co-author and UCLA professor of physics and astronomy.

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