Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet


A newly discovered football-shaped planet is blasting heavy metal into space

Just when we think we’ve seen every type of world — gas giants, dwarfs, terrestrials, even precious puffy planets — along comes another new model to prove that planets are the ultimate non-conformists.

The planet, spotted this week by the Hubble Space Telescope, is dubbed WASP-121b. But don’t be fooled by the name; this is no white Anglo-Saxon planet. It’s different — from its weird, wobbly dimensions to its penchant for blasting heavy metal into the universe.

WASP-121b lives so close to its star, the planet is practically on fire, blazing to the tune of 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2,540 Celsius. In fact, its upper atmosphere is about 10 times hotter than any other known planetary atmosphere.

The plane, which resides about 900 light-years from Earth, is far more likely to burn out than fade away. Its upper atmosphere is hot enough that — for the first time — scientists detected heavy metals like iron and magnesium dying to get out.

As the planet vents hydrogen and helium into space, those heavy elements join them for the ride, as super-hot gases.

“The heavy metals are escaping partly because the planet is so big and puffy that its gravity is relatively weak. This is a planet being actively stripped of its atmosphere,” David Sing of Johns Hopkins University noted in the NASA release.

They had better hurry, because scientists say the crushing gravity of its host star is likely to shred WASP-121b sooner rather than later.

If it doesn’t die of extreme weight loss first.

“The hydrogen and helium gas is outflowing, almost like a river, and is dragging these metals with them,” Sing adds. “It’s a very efficient mechanism for mass loss.”

Did we mention WASP-121b is shaped like an American football? That would the star’s heft again, constantly stretching and distorting it.

And what does a planet with all that fire in its belly do in the face of looming destruction?

Why, shout at the devil. For a while longer, at least.

Then, for the little rebel that paid a steep price for a front-row ticket to its star, the music will finally be over.

A newly discovered football-shaped planet is blasting heavy metal into space

Scientists discover a ‘football’ planet dubbed WASP-121b that’s so hot, its venting iron and magnesium into space.