Telescope Teamwork Reveals Gas Dwarf Planet's Atmosphere

Space.com | 7/8/2011 | Elizabeth Howell
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Two NASA telescopes peered more closely than ever before at a planet shedding gas into space.

NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes together discovered the chemical "fingerprint" of the planet, called Gliese 3470 b or GJ 3470 b. The planet was already a puzzle because it orbits extremely close to its parent star that is literally evaporating. It's nearly 13 times the size of Earth, comparable to Neptune, which clocks in at 17 Earth masses. And what scientists found when they looked at the planet more closely was a big surprise.

Scientists - GJ - B - Atmosphere - Oxygen

The scientists predicted GJ 3470 b's atmosphere would be full of oxygen and carbon, the same elements that are at the root of the water vapor and methane gas observed at Neptune. "Instead, we found an atmosphere that is so poor in heavy elements that its composition resembles the hydrogen- [and] helium-rich composition of the sun," Björn Benneke, lead author on the new research and an astronomer at the University of Montreal, said in a statement.

What's more, the team thinks they may know why GJ 3470 b's composition is so different than that of Neptune's: It has to do with the planet's origin story.

Astronomers - Exoplanets - Parent - Stars - Jupiters

Astronomers have already spotted many much larger exoplanets that orbit extremely close to their parent stars, known as "hot Jupiters." Many scientists suspect that these Jupiter-size planets formed farther out in their respective solar systems before migrating in toward their stars.

Commonly, planets such as GJ 3470 b rapidly grow into hot Jupiters, but...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Space.com
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