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

A planet is sending its host star romantic ‘heartbeat-like’ signals and we can’t handle it

It’s a love story for the celestial ages.

According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Spritzer Space Telescope detected “heartbeat-like” pulsations in the outer shell of a star called HAT-P-2 and scientists say they’re probably coming from a closely orbiting planet, HAT-P-2b.

"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," Julien de Wit, postdoctoral associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told NASA.

The findings, published Tuesday in Astrophysical Journal Letters, show how the unexpected oscillations have never been observed before between a star and a planet.

According to NASA, the rare “romance” can be detected from 370 light-years away.

Though the planet is usually relatively far from its host star, it comes close every 5.6 days. And every time it comes close, it appears to give the star a little “kiss,” according to NASA, causing the star to “beat like a heart.”

Here’s NASA’s “less lovey-dovey” analogy for the occurrence: “The planet's gravity hits the star like a bell on closest approach, making it ring throughout the planet's orbit.”

The planet itself is about eight times bigger than Jupiter, but it’s tiny in relation to its host star, which is about 100 times bigger.

That’s what makes the phenomenon so unusual.

"It's remarkable that this relatively small planet seems to affect the whole star in a way that we can see from far away," Heather Knutson—assistant professor of geological and planetary sciences at Caltech—told NASA.

Scientists say these observations suggest there’s still more to understand about planet-star interactions.

Read more about the findings at NASA.gov.

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