Astronomers have discovered the darkest planet in the Galaxy

© NASA / ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)the planet WASP-12b, reflecting only 0.6% of the light of starsAstronomers have discovered the darkest planet in the Galaxy© NASA / ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Canadian and British astronomers have discovered the darkest planet in the Galaxy in the constellation of Auriga, whose surface reflects only 0.6% of the light its star, says in an article accepted for publication in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

«This level of albedo is extremely low for any heavenly body, and he says that this planet is blacker than new asphalt. This discovery suggests that we still have much to learn about WASP-12b and others like her exoplanets,» says Taylor bell (Taylor Bell), the astronomer from McGill University in Montreal (Canada).

Over the last ten years astronomers have discovered thousands of planets outside the Solar system, part of which was similar to Earth in size, while others are reduced or enlarged copies of Jupiter. Now planetary scientists are actively working on the study of the atmosphere to assess whether they exist in life, and uncovering the history of the formation.

Great progress in this direction was achieved in the study of «hot Jupiters» – the largest and most convenient for the study of planets outside the Solar system. Their red-hot atmosphere was similar in composition to the gas envelope of Jupiter and Saturn, composed primarily of hydrogen, helium and hydrocarbons and the heavens, astronomers have discovered an exotic glass and leaden clouds and rain of precious stones.

Some «hot Jupiters», as bell says, would be almost invisible to the human eye due to the fact that their atmosphere is filled with a huge number of alkali metal ions and other elements that absorb visible light and converts it into heat and other forms of radiation. The most unusual representative of such planets was «double» Jupiter WASP-12b, located in the constellation Auriga at a distance of about 1400 light years from Earth.

This planet was discovered in 2008 and since then, thanks to record-high surface temperatures, the short «year» that lasts only a day, and the unusual chemical composition, it has attracted the attention of planetary scientists and astrophysicists. Over the past 10 years scientists have found that the star WASP-12 is a «stretched» his companion, causing the planet to turn into a kind of «egg», and gradually «blows away» its atmosphere, heating it to 2,500 degrees Celsius.

High temperatures WASP-12b, as noted by bell, prevented the scientists to measure how much heat and light reflects the surface of this gas giant. The first chance to do so appeared to astronomers in October last year, when this star system was a complete «planetary Eclipse» – a gas giant completely disappeared behind the disk of a yellow dwarf star around which it revolves.

When this happens, the overall brightness of the system decreases, allowing scientists to measure the albedo of the planet, comparing the strength of the glow of the stars before and after the Eclipse. Such measurements hold extremely difficult, as even the brightest of the planets are extremely weak light sources in comparison with the dull and cold bodies.

Analysing images from the Hubble space, bell and his colleagues could not believe their eyes – the initial measurements showed that the strength of the glow WASP-12 has not changed during the blackout. Re-examining the data, the researchers came to the conclusion that the «hot Jupiter» is almost completely black – it represents only 0.6% of incident light. In reality this figure may be even lower, as the measurement error was rather high because of imperfections in the tools space Observatory.

Exactly how the planet managed to remain coal-black, astronomers don’t know yet, as clouds of alkali metals are formed due to super-high temperatures in the upper atmosphere. Disclosure of its composition, according to scientists, can bring us closer to solving this mystery, and understanding where the boundary between planets, brown dwarfs and stars.