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Astronomers at MIT, Harvard University, and elsewhere have searched a rocky, Earth-sized exoplanet for signs of an atmosphere—and found none.
Atmospheres have previously been detected on planets much larger than our own, including several hot-Jupiters and sub-Neptunes, all of which are primarily made of ice and gas. But this is the first time scientists have been able to nail down whether an Earth-sized, terrestrial planet outside our solar system has an atmosphere.
Planet - Question - LHS - NASA - Transiting
The planet in question, LHS 3844b, was discovered in 2018 by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, TESS, and was measured to be about 1.3 times larger than Earth. The planet zips around its star in just 11 hours, making it one of the fastest orbiting exoplanets known. The star itself is a small, cool M-dwarf that resides just 49 light-years from Earth.
In a paper published today in Nature, the team reports that LHS 3844b likely has neither a thick, Venus-like atmosphere nor a thin, Earth-like atmosphere. Instead, the planet is probably more similar to Mercury—a blistering, bare rock. If an atmosphere ever existed, the researchers say the star's radiation likely blasted it away early in the planet's formation.
Planet - Gases - Co-author - Daniel - Koll
"We basically found a hot planet with no gases around it," says co-author Daniel Koll, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. "This is the first time we've known anything in detail about the atmosphere of a planet around these M-dwarfs, which are the most common type of star, making LHS 3844b the most common type of rocky planet in the galaxy."
Could any form of life manage to take hold in such a barren wasteland? Koll and his colleagues say it's extremely unlikely, as the lack of an atmosphere would instantly cook off any organisms on the planet's surface. But that doesn't mean other terrestrial exoplanets are similarly without...
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