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Hot World Breaks Record

By Ken Croswell

Published on ScienceNOW (January 14, 2011)

Planetary hells keep getting hotter. Twenty years ago, the hottest known planet was nearby Venus, sizzling at 860F. Then, planet hunters started finding "hot Jupiters"--giant worlds, hotter than Venus, that orbit close to their stars. Some of these planets were more than 2000F. Now, in a paper submitted to Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers report a new record breaker: WASP 33 b, circling a white-hot star 380 light-years away in the constellation Andromeda. A gas giant like Jupiter, the planet whips around its star every 29.28 hours (versus 225 days for Venus), periodically blocking some of the starlight, which tipped astronomers off to the world's presence. Then, in late October, they used the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands and detected the planet's near-infrared glow. This revealed the temperature: a whopping 6100F. That's hundreds of degrees hotter than the previous champ and makes Venus look like frigid Pluto in comparison.

Ken Croswell is an astronomer and the author of The Lives of Stars.

"A stellar picture of what we know or guess about those distant lights."--Kirkus. See all reviews of The Lives of Stars here.

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