Interesting Astronomy and Space Headlines of May 2010

From the things that we can see in the sky from our position on earth and the activities that take place in outer space, this crop of interesting headlines focuses on news concerning events in the air. In this article, you will learn about a secret plane sighted around the world and the background on a doomed planet succumbing to its own star.

Planet Being Eaten by Its Star

This month, the Astrophysical Journal Letters reported that the Hubble space telescope has discovered that a planet in our galaxy is on a crash course towards being eaten by the star that it orbits. The planet has been dubbed WASP-12b and is known to have the highest surface temperature of any planet in the Milky Way, which clocks in at about 1,500 degrees Celsius (or 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit).

However, WASP-12b is in extreme danger of being covered by its own star that will take place over the next 10 million years.

One of the latest instruments installed on Hubble in 2009 allowed researchers to view how the planet had been affected and the shape has changed by gravitational forces. A researcher noted that a huge cloud of material has been viewed around the planet, which is escaping and will be captured by the star. The team leader of the Open University in Great Britain, Carole Haswell, reported to have seen chemical elements that have never been before detected on planets outside of our own solar system.

WASP-12b was discovered in 2008 and is situated about 600 light-years from Earth in the Auriga Constellation. The planet is more than 300 times the size of Earth and has a mass that is 40% greater than Jupiter, which is the largest planet in our solar system.

Astronomers have already been aware that a star will swallow a planet that comes too close to it, but this is the first instance where researchers were able to clearly observe the event.  

Secret Space Plane Sighted by Novice Skywatchers

Catching sight of a secret spacecraft called the X-37B mini-space plane, novice skywatchers have been questioning the existence of the craft, which the United State Air Force isn’t helping to make any clearer. On April 22, the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle was sent into the air (without a pilot) on top of an Atlas launcher. Its flight is connected to the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office. The military tracked the craft once it reached orbit and was logged in as a string of numbers. The whereabouts or future of the craft is a mystery.

However, the orbit of the craft did not slip by the many amateur spacewatchers scattered across the world. It was visible enough for people to report its inclination and an estimation of its path of circling the Earth. For example, one skywatcher in Cape Town, South Africa uses telescopic video cameras to track spacecraft, and states that he’s enjoyed decent results over the years.