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Out there in space is an unusual exoplanet name Gliese 3470 b (GJ 3470 b.) It’s a strange world, kind of like a hybrid between Earth and Neptune. It has a rocky core like Earth, but is surrounded by an atmosphere made of hydrogen and helium. That combination is unlike anything in our own Solar System.
Thanks to the Kepler mission, we know that there are many exoplanets in this mass range. It’s possible that up to 80% of planets fall in this range, though future exoplanet missions will no doubt clarify that. Until now, astronomers haven’t had a good look at the atmosphere of one of these planets, and so their formation is a bit of a mystery.
Hubble - Spitzer - Space - Telescopes - Look
The Hubble and the Spitzer space telescopes have teamed up to take a close look at the atmosphere of GJ 3470 b, and it’s the first time that astronomers have been able to identify the chemical fingerprint of the atmosphere of a planet like this. What they found is that the planet has an almost pristine, primordial atmosphere of hydrogen and helium, without any heavier elements present.
And that presents a bit of a mystery.
Anything - System
“We don’t have anything like this in the solar system, and that’s what makes it striking.”
Half Star, Half Planet?
GJ - B - Atmosphere - Hydrogen - Helium
GJ 3470 b, with its atmosphere of hydrogen and helium, is more like a star than a planet in some ways. Our own Sun is 73% hydrogen, and the rest is almost all helium. Only a tiny portion of the Sun is heavier elements like oxygen, neon, iron, and carbon. The gas giants Jupiter and Saturn are mostly hydrogen and helium, but they also contain other compounds like methane and ammonia, as well as heavier elements. Those compounds are nearly absent in GJ 3470 b.
“This is a big discovery from the planet-formation...
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