NASA’s Spitzer Telescope Detects Heartbeat-like Pulsations In A Distant Star

Posted: Feb 15 2017, 12:10am CST | by , Updated: Feb 15 2017, 3:34am CST, in News | Latest Science News

NASA’s Spitzer Telescope Detects Heartbeat-like Pulsations in a Distant Star
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A closely orbiting "hot Jupiter" causes unusual vibrations in its host star every time it gets close its orbit

NASA has detected 'Heartbeat' of a star just in time for Valentine's Day.

The star, named HAT-P-2, is located 370 light years away from Earth and is orbited by an exoplanet called HAT-P-2b. The object is extremely hot and weighs in about eight times the mass of the Jupiter, making it one of the biggest exoplanets that we know of.

What makes the HAT-P-2b standout amid hundreds of exoplanets discovered recently is its eccentric orbit. The exoplanet orbits its host star tightly. It sweeps around the star, very nearly touching it, before hurtling away again. The exoplanet causes heartbeat-like pulsations in its host star each time it gets close to its orbit.

These pulsations are the most subtle variations of light from any source that NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has ever measured. This is also the first time that astronomers have observed unusual pulsations in a star as a result of its orbiting planet.

"Just in time for Valentine's Day, we have discovered the first example of a planet that seems to be causing a heartbeat-like behavior in its host star,” said Julien de Wit from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We thought that planets cannot really excite their stars, but we find that this one does. There is a physical link between the two, but at this stage, we actually can’t explain it. So these are mysterious pulsations induced by the star’s companion.”

The star is 100 times more massive than its close orbiting planet and this size difference may also have a more dramatic impact on momentarily dips in brightness of the star as the planet crosses in front of it.

“It's remarkable that this relatively small planet seems to affect the whole star in a way that we can see from far away.” Heather Knutson, professor of geological and planetary sciences at Caltech said.

Discovered in 2007, the planetary system has been observed by Spitzer Space Telescope over the past few years. The planet spends most of its time relatively far from the star, but makes a close approach every 5.6 days, receiving an enormous amount of energy from its host star.

In the latest effort, researchers analyzed more than 350 hours of observations of HAT-P-2 taken intermittently by Spitzer telescope between July 2011 and November 2015.

Researchers studied how the planet’s temperature changes as it approaches, sweeps by, and moves away from its star and found that the star’s brightness appears to dim every 87 minutes, allowing scientists to determine that these pulsations originate from the star, not the planet.

“Our observations suggest that our understanding of planet-star interactions is incomplete," said de Wit. "There's more to learn from studying stars in systems like this one and listening for the stories they tell through their 'heartbeats.'"

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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