Space

Scientists discover first traces of helium inside a faraway exoplanet

In a surprising find, scientists have got hold of a planet that has helium in it. This is for the first time that scientists have detected helium inside a planet. The star that the planet orbits is situated very far away from our solar system. The latest discovery has provided the scientists a new fruitful way of getting information about the upper atmosphere of exoplanets.

Lead author of the study Jessica Spake, an exoplanet hunter at the University of Exeter in England said that this is a new method to probe the upper parts of an exoplanet atmosphere, where energy radiation could be observed. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to study many more upper planetary atmospheres this way,” said Spake.

Spake and her team discovered traces of helium gas on ‘super-Neptune’ exoplanet WASP-107b, which is situated almost 200 light years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo. The WASP-107b was discovered in 2017 and the scientists have found out that the planet orbits very close to its parent star, almost 8 times closer than Mercury does to the Sun. The planet completes one orbit in every 5.7 Earth days.

To study the atmosphere of WASP-107b in more details, the scientists used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and analyzed its radiations in the infrared wavelength. When the scientists were analyzing the light passing through the planet’s atmosphere, they came across the helium gas which was in its excited state. The scientists say that it was due to a quirk of Quantum mechanics that the helium’s electrons remained at a higher-energy state for more than two hours which allowed them to closely look at the inert gas. The scientists think that the upper atmosphere of the WASP-107b extends tens of thousands of kilometers into space.

The scientists found out that although the WASP-107b is as big as the Jupiter, its mass is only 12 percent of Jupiter. Scientists say the studying the infrared light helped them detect the helium in the upper atmosphere of WASP-107b. “We hope to use this technique with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, for example, to learn what kind of planets have large envelopes of hydrogen and helium, and how long planets can hold on to their atmospheres,” stated Spake.

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