Astronomers have identified a planet 90 light years from Earth with a surprising atmosphere and the possibility that the clouds contain water.
TOI-1231 b, the planet in question, it is an exoplanet, which means it is outside our solar system. The planet was discovered by a team of scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the NASA andUniversity 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 Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and confirmed using the Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS) on the Magellan Clay telescope in Chile. The PFS revealed details about the exoplanet’s mass and orbits by observing its gravitational influence on its host star.
In just 24 Earth days, TOI-1231 b completes an orbit of its nearby dwarf star M NLTT 24399, also known as the red dwarf, the most common type of star in the Milky Way.
NLTT 24399 is smaller, lighter and dimmer than our sun, which made it relatively easy to detect the new exoplanet.
“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 much smaller star, the proportion of light that is blocked out will be greater.
In a way, this creates a larger shadow on the star’s surface, making the planets around the M dwarfs more easily detectable and easier to study. “
the scientists said.
TOI-1231 b, the perfect candidate
Astronomers have determined that TOI-1231 b “strangely remembers” Neptune, both in size and density, leading them to believe that it is also gaseous and not rocky, like the Earth. Her temperature, however, it is more similar to that of our planet Christmas.
“Although TOI 1231 b is eight times closer to its star than Earth to the sun, its temperature is similar to that of our planet, thanks to its colder and less bright host star, however the planet itself is actually more larger than the Earth and a little smaller than Neptune: we could call it sub-Neptune ”.
said the co-author of the study Diana Dragomir.
With a temperature of around 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius), TOI-1231 b it is one of the smallest exoplanets available for future atmospheric studies, never discovered.
“Compared to most of the transiting planets detected so far, which often have scorching temperatures of many hundreds or thousands of degrees, TOI-1231 b is downright freezing”
said thelead author Jennifer Burt.
Previous research suggests that planets with such a low temperature may have clouds in their atmosphere, such as Il K2-18 recently discovered that showed evidence of water clouds, leaving the scientists shocking.
“TOI-1231 b is one of the few other planets we know of with a similar size and temperature range, so future observations of this new planet will allow us to determine how common (or rare) water cloud formation is around them. temperate worlds, ”Burt said.
And this is not the only distinctive feature of the planetary system. It is moving away from Earth at such a high speed that researchers can easily detect hydrogen atoms exiting its atmosphere, like a tail dragging the planet behind it.
“The low density of TOI-1231 b indicates that it is surrounded by a substantial atmosphere rather than being a rocky planet. But the composition and extent of this atmosphere are unknown! ” Dragomir said. “TOI-1231 b could have a large hydrogen or hydrogen-helium atmosphere, or a denser water vapor atmosphere. Each of these points would indicate a different origin, allowing astronomers to understand if and how planets form differently around M dwarfs than planets around our Sun, for example. “
A new era for exoplanets
NASA researchers say these types of discoveries mark a new era in the study of exoplanets. They are moving from simply sensing these unusual planets to actually observing specific worlds and understanding their atmospheres.
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 read like a barcode” and reveal its gaseous composition.
“One of the most intriguing findings of the past two decades of exoplanet science is that, so far, none of the new planetary systems we have discovered resemble our own solar system,” Burt said. “They are full of planets between the size of Earth and Neptune in orbits much shorter than those of Mercury, so we have no local examples to compare them with.”
The researchers are planning to study the planet further later this month using the Hubble Space Telescope. They also hope to continue their observations and expand their research using the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to launch later this year.
“This new planet that we’ve discovered is still weird, but it’s one step closer to being a bit like our neighboring planets,” Burt said.
If you are attracted to science, keep following us, so you don’t miss the latest news and news from all over the world!