Corot 7b

StarDate: November 30, 2009

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We Earthlings view the Sun positively. After all, its light warms our planet, providing comfortable conditions for life life. But if any intelligent beings inhabit a newfound planet known as Corot 7b, they probably view their star not just as a source of life, but also as a source of death. That's because the star's gravity will tear the planet apart.

The planet was discovered by the French satellite Corot, which detected tiny dips in the star's light as the planet passed in front of the star. The planet is just 1.6 million miles from the star -- less than two percent of the distance from Earth to the Sun. As a result, the planet whirls around the star once every 20 hours. So the planet's inhabitants could celebrate their birthdays every 20 hours.

One thing they probably wouldn't celebrate, though, is their planet's fate.

In just a few tens of millions of years, their star's gravity will likely tear their planet to bits, because the star's gravity tugs harder on the planet's dayside than on its nightside.

And astronomers calculate that the star is slowly dragging the planet closer and closer. This intensifies the difference in gravity felt by the day and night sides. When the difference is great enough, it will split the planet apart.

Since the planet is so close to its sun, its surface temperature must be thousands of degrees. That's actually good news, because it means that, chances are, nobody lives on this doomed planet.

Script by Ken Croswell

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