NASA's Kepler spacecraft seems to have spotted a distant, rocky planet that is falling apart.

Kepler hunts for planets beyond the Solar System by searching for steady, periodic dimming in the light of parent stars, which indicates the passage of an orbiting body. In the case of the star KIC 12557548, however, the drop in starlight varies in strength with each passage. Scientists have suggested that this variability is a sign of an orbiting planet that is trailed by a large dust cloud.

Matteo Brogi of Leiden University in the Netherlands and his team modelled the dust cloud and found that its presence could indeed explain the Kepler data. The cloud is probably the result of the planet being bombarded by so much stellar radiation that it has begun breaking up into dust.

Astron. Astrophys. (2012)