Hubble spots a pitch-black exoplanet


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Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have determined that an exoplanet is practically pitch black, reflecting almost no light.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed a planet outside our solar system that looks as black as fresh asphalt because it eats light rather than reflecting it back into space. This light-eating prowess is due to the planet’s unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere.

The oddball exoplanet, called WASP-12b, is one of a class of so-called “hot Jupiters,” gigantic, gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures. The planet’s atmosphere is so hot that most molecules are unable to survive on the blistering day side of the planet, where the temperature is 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, clouds probably cannot form to reflect light back into space. Instead, incoming light penetrates deep into the planet’s atmosphere where it is absorbed by hydrogen atoms and converted to heat energy.

Because the exoplanet is tidally locked, with one side always facing its sun and the other always in nightime, the nighttime face is estimated to be about 2,000 degrees cooler, and actually shows evidence of the existence of water vapor and clouds.

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