The first planet found by the Kepler space telescope is doomed – Science News Magazine

0
6

Support nonprofit journalism.
Like the giant planet illustrated here, the planet Kepler 1658b is on a slow death spiral into its sun.
Engine House VFX, At-Bristol Science Centre, University of Exeter
By

The first planet ever spotted by the Kepler space telescope is falling into its star.
Kepler launched in 2009 on a mission to find exoplanets by watching them cross in front of their stars. The first potential planet the telescope spotted was initially dismissed as a false alarm, but in 2019 astronomer Ashley Chontos and colleagues proved it was real (SN: 3/5/19). The planet was officially named Kepler 1658b.
Now, Chontos and others have determined Kepler 1658b’s fate. “It is tragically spiraling into its host star,” says Chontos, now at Princeton University. The planet has roughly 2.5 million years left before it faces a fiery death. “It will ultimately end up being engulfed. Death by star.”
Headlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your email inbox every Friday.
Thank you for signing up!
There was a problem signing you up.
The roughly Jupiter-sized planet is searingly hot, orbiting its star once every three days. In follow-up observations from 2019 to 2022, the planet kept transiting the star earlier than expected.
Combined data from Kepler and other telescopes show that the planet is inching closer to the star, Chontos and colleagues report December 19 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“You can see the interval between the transits is shrinking, really slowly but really consistently, at a rate of 131 milliseconds per year,” says astrophysicist Shreyas Vissapragada of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass.
That doesn’t sound like much. But if this trend continues, the planet has only 2 million or 3 million years left to live. “For something that’s been around for 2 to 3 billion years, that’s pretty short,” Vissapragada says. If the planet’s lifetime was a more human 100 years, it would have a little more than a month left.
Studying Kepler 1658b as it dies will help explain the life cycles of similar planets. “Learning something about the actual physics of how orbits shrink over time, we can get a better handle on the fates of all of these planets,” Vissapragada says.
Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at [email protected]
S. Vissapragada et al. The possible tidal demise of Kepler’s first planetary system. The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Published online December 19, 2022. doi: 10.3847/2041-8213/aca47e.
Lisa Grossman is the astronomy writer. She has a degree in astronomy from Cornell University and a graduate certificate in science writing from University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives near Boston.
Our mission is to provide accurate, engaging news of science to the public. That mission has never been more important than it is today.
As a nonprofit news organization, we cannot do it without you.
Your support enables us to keep our content free and accessible to the next generation of scientists and engineers. Invest in quality science journalism by donating today.
Science News was founded in 1921 as an independent, nonprofit source of accurate information on the latest news of science, medicine and technology. Today, our mission remains the same: to empower people to evaluate the news and the world around them. It is published by the Society for Science, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) membership organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education (EIN 53-0196483).
© Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022. All rights reserved.
Subscribers, enter your e-mail address for full access to the Science News archives and digital editions.
Not a subscriber?
Become one now.

source