Astronomers probe a mini-Neptune’s atmosphere | 7/21/2019 | Paul Scott Anderson
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Artist’s concept of mini-Neptune exoplanet GJ 3470 b transiting, or passing in front of, its red dwarf star. In the new study, astronomers used transits and eclipses of the exoplanet to obtain spectroscopic data about the exoplanet’s atmosphere. Image via NASA/ESA/D. PLAYER/UdeMNouvelles.

Planets between the Earth and Neptune in size don’t exist in our solar system, but they seem to be common elsewhere. They are a cross between our solar system’s rocky terrestrial planets and its ice giants. Now, for the first time, astronomers have been able to analyze the atmosphere of one of these “mid-size” distant worlds, which are known, as a class, as mini-Neptunes.

Findings - July - Hubblesite - Nature - Astronomy

The peer-reviewed findings were announced on July 2, 2019 via Hubblesite, and published in the journal Nature Astronomy on July 1, 2019.

The planet is Gliese 3470 b, a mini-Neptune orbiting a red dwarf star. It weighs a calculated 12.6 Earth masses, making it much more massive than Earth but less massive than Neptune in our solar system (17 Earth masses). If placed in our solar system, Gliese 3470 b would fit nicely between Earth and Neptune in terms of size. It’s thought that the planet has a large rocky core buried beneath a deep crushing atmosphere of hydrogen and helium.

Artist - Illustration - Atmosphere - Interior - GJ

Artist’s illustration of both the atmosphere and interior of GJ 3470 b (top), as well as what the system may have looked like when the circumstellar debris disk still existed around the star (bottom). Image via NASA/ESA/L. Hustak (STScI)/Hubblesite.

Thanks to NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, scientists were able to study the atmosphere of Gliese 3470 b, the first time this has been done for a planet of this type. According to Björn Benneke at the University of Montreal in Canada:

Discovery - Planet - Formation - Perspective - Planet

This is a big discovery from the planet formation perspective. The planet orbits very close to the...
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