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An artist's impression of exoplanet WASP-12b

In a new study, our pioneering scientists think they have solved a mystery about exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) that are getting closer and closer to the stars they orbit around.

These planets, called ‘hot Jupiters’, are massive and gaseous, similar to Jupiter but orbit extremely close to their stars, taking just a few days to go all the way around.

The tidal wave mystery

According to existing theories, the closeness of hot Jupiters should create powerful gravitational ‘tidal waves’ between the planet and star.

Over billions of years, these tides transfer energy, causing the planets to spiral inwards until they are eventually consumed by their stars.

However, some hot Jupiters like WASP-12b seem to be spiralling in way too quickly for the theories to explain. Scientists were missing a key part of the mystery.

The magnetic solution

Our scientists say they have found the missing piece - magnets!

They propose that strong magnetic fields inside certain stars can dissipate the tidal waves from hot Jupiters very efficiently.

According to the researchers, the tidal waves create inward-moving waves inside the star.

When these waves encounter the star's magnetic interior, they transform into different types of magnetic waves that travel outwards and eventually disappear, draining energy rapidly.

The study findings suggest certain nearby stars may be good targets to search for additional hot Jupiter planets on decaying orbits.

If found, they could provide more evidence about how magnetic fields impact the tides from these alien worlds.

The research could also reveal where the dissipated tidal energy goes within the star's interior.

Find out more

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