The huge gas planet CoRoT-2b is losing five million tons of matter every second, thanks to massive X-ray bursts coming from its parent star. The worst part? CoRoT-2b might actually be the architect of its own destruction.
The planet orbits its star CoRoT-2a at a very close distance - only about ten times the distance between Earth and the Moon. Located about 880 light-years away, CoRoT-2b is a gas giant roughly three times the size of Jupiter. At least, it's that big for now - the star is pummeling it with a hundred thousand times the amount of X-ray radiation the Sun sends Earth's way.
The CoRoT-2 system is very young compared to Earth, only about 100 to 300 million years old. But even at that young age, the star should be fully formed, and it should have left behind such youthful volatility. Instead, it remains what's known as a very active star, sending off these powerful X-ray emissions created by unusually strong magnetic fields. And where are those coming from?
University of Hamburg researcher Stefan Czesla has the rather grim answer:
"Because this planet is so close to the star, it may be speeding up the star's rotation and that could be keeping its magnetic fields active. If it wasn't for the planet, this star might have left behind the volatility of its youth millions of years ago."
Yes, the planet CoRoT-2b is sowing the seeds of its own eventual destruction. That said, it might actually stand to lose a few trillion pounds or so - the researchers believe that CoRoT-2b is actually bigger than it should be, and this might be the result of its incredibly close proximity to its parent star.
So then, perhaps we're not watching a destructive force here, but rather a particularly brutal form of self-correction. The planet that originally formed was just too impossibly big, which wreaked havoc on its all too nearby star and brought down the X-ray barrage. After a few hundred million years - or perhaps even a couple billion, these things take time - of X-ray blasts, CoRoT-2b might finally be small enough to stop affecting its parent star, and that will end the X-ray emissions. It's potentially a shockingly peaceful resolution to one of the most violent relationships in all the cosmos.
Via Astronomy & Astrophysics. Image credits are as follows - Optical: NASA/NSF/IPAC-Caltech/UMass/2MASS, PROMPT; Wide field image: DSS; X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Hamburg/S.Schröter et al; Illustration: CXC/M. Weiss.