A planet and a star are having a tumultuous romance that can be detected from 370 light-years away.
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected unusual pulsations in the outer shell of a star called HAT-P-2. Scientists' best guess is that a closely orbiting planet, called HAT-P-2b, causes these vibrations each time it gets close to the star in its orbit.
"Just in time for Valentine's Day, we have discovered the first example of a planet that seems to be causing a heartbeat-like behavior in its host star," said Julien de Wit, postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. A study describing the findings was published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The star's pulsations are the most subtle variations of light from any source that Spitzer has ever measured. A similar effect had been observed in binary systems called "heartbeat stars" in the past, but never before between a star and a planet.
JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA.