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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope Confirms Existence of ‘Pitch Black’ Planet

Thanks to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which has been monitoring space from Earth’s orbit since 1990, scientists have been able to confirm the existence of an oddball planet that appears pitch black to the naked eye because it consumes light.

According to HubbleSite, a web repository operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute, the planet “looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space.”

In a news report published in mid-September, NASA explained that planet WASP-12b is among a class of gas giants known as “hot Jupiters” that are similar physically to the planet Jupiter but that lie extremely close to their host stars.

It lies within 2 million miles of its star, WASP-12, whereas Earth lies 92.96 million miles away from its star, the sun.

WASP-12b lies so close to its star that “most molecules are unable to survive on the blistering day side of the planet, where the temperature is 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit.”

This prevents the planet from forming clouds to reflect any incoming light back into space. As a result, incoming light “penetrates deep into the planet’s atmosphere, where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted to heat energy.”

“We did not expect to find such a dark exoplanet,” said Taylor Bell, the lead researcher of the Hubble study. “Most hot Jupiters reflect about 40 percent of starlight.”

Bell’s team reportedly uncovered WASP-12b’s light-eating properties by using the HST’s imaging spectrograph to “search in mostly visible light for a tiny dip in starlight as the planet passed directly behind the star.”

“The amount of dimming tells astronomers how much reflected light is given off by the planet,” NASA noted. “However, the observations did not detect reflected light, meaning that the daytime side of the planet is absorbing almost all the starlight falling onto it.”

Because the planet sits so close to its host star, it’s tidally locked with it, meaning it has a fixed day side and a fixed night side.

The night side reportedly remains perpetually cooler than the day side by 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, therefore allowing for water vapor and clouds to form.

“Past observations of hot Jupiters indicate that the temperature difference between the day and night sides of the planet increases with hotter day sides,” said Bell.

“This previous research suggests that more heat is being pumped into the day side of the planet, but the processes, such as winds, that carry the heat to the night side of the planet don’t keep up the pace.”