Tech by VICE

Scientists Say This Planet Looks Like It’s ‘Darker Than Fresh Asphalt’

The movie “Pitch Black,” come to life.

by Samantha Cole
Sep 14 2017, 5:25pm

Image: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon and MovieClips Trailer Vault/YouTube. Compilation: Samantha Cole

Welcome to Planet Goth. It's dark as fuck and hot as hell.

This is WASP-12b, a gas giant that's not messing around. It's twice the size of Jupiter, meaning it's utterly humongous, and a year there is equivalent to just one Earth day: Its orbit hugs that tightly to its host star. During daylight, the surface reaches 4,712 Fahrenheit. Its atmosphere is composed of atomic hydrogen and helium. And now we know that the planet is almost pitch black from the outside.

A team of astronomers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada and the United Kingdom's University of Exeter used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph to measure how much light this exoplanet reflects, a quality called albedo. "The measured albedo of WASP-12b is 0.064 at most," lead author Taylor Bell of McGill said in a news release. "This is an extremely low value, making the planet darker than fresh asphalt!" It could be a blazingly-bright planet from the surface, but we'll never know, because it is an incredibly angry place.

The planet was first discovered in 2008, orbiting a star about 1,400 light-years away. It's been painted in the press as a "diamond planet" because of its carbon-rich atmosphere, which means rock there would be made of pure carbon, such as diamond or graphite, a researcher said at the time.

In 2010, Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph found that WASP-12b was being "eaten" by its star, with its atmosphere spilling out into the uncomfortably close yellow dwarf. NASA predicted that this pitch-black planet had another 10 million years or so left before it's completely devoured. That leaves some time to send Vin Diesel out there to kick some alien ass.

Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.