Environment & Science

Celestial love: Star swipes right on 'eccentric' planet

This illustration shows how the planet HAT-P-2b, left, appears to cause heartbeat-like pulsations in its host star, HAT-P-2.
This illustration shows how the planet HAT-P-2b, left, appears to cause heartbeat-like pulsations in its host star, HAT-P-2.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Does your heart flutter when your crush walks by? Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have discovered a similar phenomenon between a star and planet 370 light years away.

Researchers measured unusual pulsations from a star called HAT-P-2 caused by an “eccentric” planet that orbits it. Scientists from JPL were trying to understand the elliptical orbit of planet HAT-P-2b and found that they weren’t the only ones to paying attention to it.

Here’s the metaphor JPL used to describe it:

Each time the planet swings around for that close approach, it appears to gives its star a little "kiss" as the gravitational forces of these two bodies interact. The star, in turn, beats like a heart as the planet travels around in its orbit again.

Previously, pulsations of this kind had only been observed between stars. It seems love knows no bounds.  

"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, a researcher who published his findings in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

What exactly did scientists measure? Planet HAT-P-2b is eight times the mass of Jupiter, yet completes a rotation around its host star every 5.6 days. That close proximity allowed scientist to observe changes to the star's gravity.

"Every time it whips around in this orbit it's very, very close to the host star," co-author and astronomer Nikole Lewis told KPCC. "It actually creates what we call gravitational waves propagation in the host star. And we can actually see these waves that emit from the host star that are caused by the planet with Spitzer Space Telescope."

No word yet on a possible link between black holes and interstellar breakups.