Astronomers have spotted a planet 90 light-years from Earth with a surprising atmosphere – and the possibility of clouds containing water.
TOI-1231 b iswhich means it is outside our solar system. It was discovered by a team of scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of New Mexico, who will publish their findings in an upcoming issue of The Astronomical Journal.
TOI-1231 b was detected using data from the Exoplanet Transit Satellite (TESS) and confirmed using the Planet Finder (PFS) spectrograph of the Magellan Clay Telescope in Chile. PFS has revealed details about the mass and orbits of the exoplanet, observing its gravitational influence on the host star.
In just 24 Earth days, TOI-1
NLTT 24399 is smaller, lighter and weaker than our sun, which actually made the discovery ofrelatively easy.
“Imagine an Earth-like planet passing in front of a star the size of the sun, it will block some light; but if it passes in front of a star that is much smaller, the proportion of light that is blocked will be greater, “the scientists said.” In a sense, this creates more shadow on the star’s surface, making the planets around M dwarfs easier to find and easier to learn. ”
The perfect candidate for observation
Astronomers have found that TOI-1231 b “strangely resembles” Neptune, both in size and density, leading them to believe that it is also gaseous – not rocky like Earth. However, its temperature is more similar to that of our home planet.
“Although TOI 1231 b is eight times closer to its star than Earth to the sun, its temperature is similar to that of Earth, thanks to its cooler and less bright host star,” said study co-author Diana. Dragomir. “However, the planet itself is actually larger than Earth and slightly smaller than Neptune – we could call it sub-Neptune.”
With a temperature of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, TOI-1231 b is one of the coolest, smallfor a future atmospheric study ever discovered.
“Compared to most of the transit planets discovered so far, which are oftenat many hundreds or thousands of degrees, the TOI-1231 b is positively cool, “said lead author Jennifer Burt.
Previous research has shown that planets with such low temperatures may have clouds in their atmosphere. The recently discovered K2-18 showed evidence of water clouds – shocking scientists.
“TOI-1231 b is one of the only other planets we know in a similar size and temperature range, so future observations of this new planet will allow us to determine how often (or rarely) water clouds form moderate worlds around them. “Burt said.
And this is not the only feature of the planetary system. It is moving away from Earth at such a high speed that researchers can easily detect hydrogen atoms escaping from its atmosphere – like a tail moving behind the planet.
“The low density of TOI-1231 b indicates that it is surrounded by a significant atmosphere instead of a rocky planet. But the composition and extent of this atmosphere are unknown!” said Dragomir. “TOI-1231 b could have a large atmosphere of hydrogen or hydrogen-helium or a denser atmosphere of water vapor. Each would indicate a different origin, allowing astronomers to understand if and how planets form differently around M dwarves compared to planets around our Sun, for example. “
A new era for exoplanet research
NASA researchers say these types of discoveries mark a new era in the study of exoplanets. They go from simply discovering these unusual planets to actually observing specific worlds and understanding their atmosphere.
Using a technique called transmission spectroscopy, scientists hope to capture starlight in the planet’s atmosphere. Molecules in the atmosphere absorb this light, leaving behind dark lines that “can be read as a barcode” and reveal its gaseous composition.
“One of the most intriguing results of the last two decades of exoplanet science is that so far none of the new planetary systems we’ve discovered look like our own solar system, “Burt said. They are full of planets between the sizes of Earth and Neptune in orbits much shorter than those of Mercury, so we have no local examples to compare them with. “
Researchers plan to further explore the planet later this month using the Hubble Space Telescope. They also hope to continue their observations and expand their research with the help ofwhich is due to launch later this year.
“This new planet we’ve discovered is still weird, but it’s one step closer to being somewhat similar to our neighboring planets,” Burt said.