Exciting new research by astronomers at The Open University (OU) and the Universities of Warwick and Sheffield has opened up the chance to find out what distant planets are made of. The team of astronomers have made observations which can help reveal the chemical makeup of a small rocky world orbiting a distant star about 1500 light years away from Earth, increasing our understanding of how planets, including ours, were formed. Using a state-of-the-art, ultra-fast camera, ULTRACAM, on Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) William Herschel Telescope (WHT) the researchers have observed an extraordinary exoplanet named 'KIC 1255 b'.
"A single year on KIC 1255b lasts only 16 hours on Earth and the whole planet seems to be slowly boiling away under intense heat of its sun" said Jakub Bochinski, research student at the OU, and lead author of the study. The planet's surface is heated to over 2100K (over 1800°C), hot enough to vaporize rock. As a result, the planet's outer layers are continuously destroyed, with the evaporating rock creating a comet-like dust tail following the planet in its orbit. Since the dust is made from the rocky surface of the disintegrating planet, the same technique will allow the chemical makeup of the planet's surface to be measured.
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