Bizarre Exoplanet That Devours Light Discovered by Hubble

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Artist’s impression shows the exoplanet WASP-12b — an alien world as black as fresh asphalt, orbiting a star like our Sun.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has just revealed that a previously discovered exoplanet is almost entirely black, absorbing 94 percent of light falling upon it.

The exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is located 1,400 light-years from Earth. It’s a “hot Jupiter” meaning it orbits closely to its host star. It is believed to have a temperature of about 4,600°F on its hot side.

A team of scientists led by McGill University and the University of Exeter used the Hubble telescope to make the discovery, finding that the planet had a reflectivity of just 0.064—darker than asphalt.

WASP-12b was first discovered in 2008, orbiting its star near the constellation of Auriga. It has been studied numerous times since then, but this is the first time we’ve been able to collect any insight about what the planet looks like.

“We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet,” said lead researcher Taylor Bell of McGill University and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in a statement. “Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight.”

The planet is locked tidally to its star, meaning one side is in perpetual daylight and the other is stuck in darkness. Astronomers were able to guess at its color by watching the planet pass behind its star and studying how much light was reflected by the day side.