back to article Hubble eyes sun-roasted exoplanet

Observations from the Hubble Space Telescope's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) have determined that gas giant HD 209458b is having a really bad hair day, orbiting so close to its star that its atmosphere is being stripped away by cosmic winds and cast into space in a "comet-like tail". Artist's impression of HD 209458b. Pic …


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  1. frank ly

    Art, it's a mystery to me

    How did they get the artist onto that moon/planet so that he/she could have such a good view of HD 209458b getting a hot blow job?

    1. Matthew Malthouse


      The CERN matter transmitter.

  2. Anonymous Coward


    With help from our Draco overlords and Deros friends of course!

  3. Steve X


    Now THAT'S global warming :)

  4. Yesnomaybe

    Yes, but...

    "It will take about a trillion years for the planet to evaporate."

    Yes, but property-prices will suffer much sooner than that.

  5. mhenriday

    «It will take about a trillion years for the planet to evaporate.»

    The star around which the planet orbits is very much like our sun and about the same age, which indicates that when its reserve of hydrogen has been used up, the core contracts, and the star swells into a red giant on its way to becoming a white dwarf, the planet will find itself well within the star's boundary. As is the case of our sun, this should take another 5000 million (5 x 10^9) years or so ; thus the planet will be properly fried long before it evaporates - to the degree that, with present surface temperatures of about 1100 K, it wasn't fried long ago....


    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      What about mass and orbit ?

      I mean, as the planet loses mass, it is supposed to drift away from its star, isn't it ?

      Admittedly, given its short distance, that may not be enough to avoid being engulfed in the red giant phase, but it might delay the inevitable a few millenia.

      In any case, I doubt the planet will actually "evaporate". Once it is small enough, the pressure from the solar wind will logically push it far enough for it to stop being sand-blasted like it is now.

      Then it'll need a few million years to cool down.

      Which should be about what we need to invent the technology to get there and mine the wonderful crystals that must form.

  6. No, I will not fix your computer

    Comet tail

    //COS revealed the comet tail effect of the escaping gas during transition//

    In this case the "tail" will point away from the star due to solar winds, whereas comets tails normally point towards the star because heat from the star causes explosive expansion, there's no friction in space so tails don't naturally form trails.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge


      As per this article :, comet tails ALWAYS point AWAY from the sun, given that it is the solar wind that creates them in the first place.

      It's like candles : when you blow them out, they're never going to point towards you, always away.

  7. Matthew Gaylard

    Space Travel

    My brother and I were having an interesting conversation that sparked a chain of thoughts for me (as often happens in conversation with him). We were discussing the possibility that one of the reasons for the apparent scarcity of intelligent life in the universe (i.e no-one has contacted us yet) might be the existence of a universal bottle-neck on life preventing inter-stellar travel. The argument goes along these lines ...

    ... The process of developing the technologies required for interstellar travel is so dangerous and carries such a risk of species extinction or even just major cultural disasters e.g. atomic wars, systemic destruction of the environment and the eco-systems required to support civilization that it perhaps only very seldom - or never - occurs ...

    If this is the case, overcoming such a bottleneck might require radical shifts in consciousness in an intelligent species. My strong suspicion is that colonialist impulses are unlikely to survive such shifts. What would space exploration look like as practiced by a non-colonialist species?

    From this perspective the problem is less one of "interstellar" and more one of "travel". i.e want constitutes "travel". In its simplest sense, travel means going to a place. But we're talking about going to a place and experiencing it. Experiencing it is more than simply a matter of sensory immersion - although this is a huge part of it. It is also a matter of having agency in the destination i.e. being able to manipulate the environment to which you have "traveled".

    This means the logistical problem presented by interstellar travel has two parts - resolution, and communication. We have made significant progress with the first part of the problem. We have much better resolution of nearby stars than 100 years ago. We know a little bit about their structure. We even have some evidence of planetary systems (in relation to our own solar system, several probes (including Viking on Mars) have significantly improved our resolution of our own planetary system).

    The second problem, communication, addresses the issue of agency. Manipulation of the environment is a fundamental part of "being there" and this is essentially a problem of communication - theoretically similar to that encountered by people experiencing locked in syndrome.

    When viewed in these terms, space travel at light speed becomes possible. In fact, the Viking probe to Mars represents a primitive form of such travel. Although the initial journey to Mars was much slower, now that Viking is there, we can "travel" to mars at light speed. Obviously, there are massive technical problems associated with signal strength and bandwidth over interstellar distances, but at least we have identified a spectrum of light-speed carriers, and this seems the sort of problem that may have solutions.

    At present we must accept that the placement of an interstellar transceiver to accomplish light-speed travel must itself happen at slower than light speed unless we can establish a communications protocol with an interstellar being that can accomplish it for us. The toolkit one provides such a sub-light speed mission obviously becomes very important. It must be expandable and remotely programmable. One conceivable strategy would be to include organic tools. This has been contemplated with respect to Mars already - the possibility of planting extremophile microbes that would release oxygen into the martian atmosphere, for instance.

    It is possible to conceive of far more sophisticated interventions exploiting extremely good use of bandwidth. There may be ways of tackling the problem of resolution that we cannot presently conceive of or are only beginning to guess at. Furthermore, a civilization willing to plan over the 1000's of years it might take a probe to reach its destination is likely to be operating on different planning cycles to us. An intervention might take the form of insertion of particular genetic code into an environment. If this is true, it makes a search for evidence of intelligent design against the backdrop of general evolution rather meaningful. Such a discovery might well yield the information we need to decode a communications protocol and interpret the instructions for setting up a transceiver. We may even be embarking on such a project without being conscious of it.

    It therefore seems presumptious to assume that intelligent life is not attempting to communicate with us. It may even be attempting to communicate "with" us in the sense that we are its tool of communication with earth i.e. communicating through us.

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