Helium exoplanet inflated like a balloon, research shows

phys.org | 12/6/2018 | Staff
DebraS (Posted by) Level 3
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Astronomers have discovered a distant planet with an abundance of helium in its atmosphere, which has swollen to resemble an inflated balloon.

An international team of researchers, including Jessica Spake and Dr. David Sing from the University of Exeter, have detected the inert gas escaping from the atmosphere of the exoplanet HAT-P-11b—found 124 light years from Earth and in the Cygnus constellation.

Breakthrough - Researchers - University - Geneva - Exoplanet

The remarkable breakthrough was led by researchers from the University of Geneva, who observed the exoplanet using the spectrograph called Carmenes, installed on the 4-metre telescope at Calar Alto, Spain.

For the first time, the data revealed the speed of helium atoms in the upper atmosphere of the exoplanet, which is equivalent in size to Neptune. The helium is in an extended cloud that is escaping from the planet, just as a helium balloon might escape from a person's hand.

Research - Team - Ground-breaking - Study - Understandings

The research team believe that the ground-breaking study could open up new understandings of the extreme atmospheric conditions found around the hottest exoplanets.

The research is published in the leading journal, Science, on December 6 2018.

Jessica - Spake - Part - Exeter - Physics

Jessica Spake, part of Exeter's Physics and Astronomy department said: "This is a really exciting discovery, particularly as helium was only detected in exoplanet atmospheres for the first time earlier this year. The observations show helium being blasted away from the planet by radiation from its host star. Hopefully we can use this new study to learn what types of planets have large envelopes of hydrogen and helium, and how long they can hold the gases in their atmospheres."

Helium was first detected as an unknown yellow spectral line signature in sunlight in 1868. Devon-based astronomer Norman Lockyer was the first to propose this line was due to a new element, and named it after the Greek Titan of the Sun, Helios. It has since been discovered to be...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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