Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hell in space

Well, I guess this is one world we can strike off the list of potential sites for colonies.

WASHINGTON — Astronomers have found a planet with a galactic case of hot flashes.

In just six hours, this planet four times the size of Jupiter heats up by more than 1,200 degrees, according to a study published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.


Normally, the planet [HD80606b] is a toasty 980 degrees or so. But in the few hours it whips around its sun the planet gets zapped with mega-heat, pushing the thermometer closer to 2,240 degrees.

During its brief close pass to its sun, the planet is 10 times nearer its star than Mercury is to our sun.

When it comes closest to its star, it becomes one giant "brewing storm" complete with shock waves, [UC Santra Cruz astronomy professor Gregory] Laughlin said. The radiation bombarding the planet is 800 times stronger than when it is farthest away.

Then just as quickly, the planet slingshots away and radiates the heat to the cool vacuum of space. It glows cherry red and the temperature plummets, Laughlin said.

"Utterly bizarre," he said. "It is thoroughly completely uninhabitable. In a galaxy of uninhabitable planets, this one stands out as being completely inhospitable to life."

A Class Y planet in the Star Trek universe, I'm sure.

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