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Astronomers say they’ve spotted the first: an exoplanet heading toward an older star in a long decay that ends with the planet’s destruction by a cosmic impact.
Interestingly, the distant world was already famous in astronomical circles as the first exoplanet candidate observed by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, which discovered thousands of planets beyond our solar system during nearly a decade of looking.
Kepler-1658b was first detected in Kepler data in 2009, but it took a full decade before that. Additional analysis was officially approved It’s now known that the giant planet, roughly six times the size of Jupiter, may have less time left than originally expected.
Shreyas Visapragada of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said in a statement: “We’ve already found evidence for exoplanets inspiraling toward our stars, but we’ve never seen such a planet around an evolved star before. Theory predicts that evolved stars are very efficient at draining energy from the orbits of their planets, and now we can test these theories with observations.
Visapragada is the main author of the book a New study The findings were published Monday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
An elegy for Kepler? NASA’s pioneering planet finder (pictures)
It is probably no coincidence that a gas giant planet orbiting close to its star was the first exoplanet observed by Kepler. These so-called “hot Jupiter” planets are so massive and so close to their home star that they are relatively easy to spot, looking more like a machine in a haystack than a needle.
Kepler-1658b orbits the star Kepler 1658 closer than Mercury to our Sun, completing one complete revolution of the star every 3.85 days. But researchers now say that the orbital period is decreasing by 131 milliseconds each year, indicating that the planet is rapidly getting closer to its star – and to its end.
Researchers say this slow inspiration is due to tidal or gravitational interactions between the two bodies. Kepler-1658 appears to have entered the later stages of its life where it will begin to expand outwards, something that is expected to happen to our own Sun in the next few billion years.
Vissapragada says the system provides an interesting real-world laboratory for studying such complex dynamics.
“We can actually refine our tidal physics models,” Visapragada said. “With any luck, there will be more of these labs soon.”
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