Hubble Telescope Observes An Exoplanet In More Detail Than Ever Before

Posted: Mar 3 2018, 11:49pm CST | by , Updated: Mar 4 2018, 5:47am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Hubble Telescope Observes an Exoplanet in More Detail Than Ever Before
Credit: NASA, ESA

New observations can provide more insights into how and where planets form around a star

With the help of Hubble Space Telescope, researchers have examined the atmosphere of a hot exoplanet in greater detail than ever before. New data reveal that the exoplanet has an unusual composition and it may have formed in a different way from planets in our own solar system.

The exoplanet, called WASP-39b, resides 700 light years away from Earth and orbits around a sun-like star. It has been classified as a “hot Saturn” because it is almost as massive as Saturn. But despite having similar mass, the properties of these two planets are totally different. WASP-39b does not have a ring system like Saturn. Its atmosphere is also puffy and free of high high-altitude clouds – a characteristic that allowed researchers to peer deep into the exoplanet.

By using Hubble telescope, researchers were able to carefully analyze the planet's atmosphere and concluded that its atmosphere contains water vapor. In fact, the exoplanet has three times more water than Saturn. Although researchers were hoping to find traces of water, they were still surprised by the amount of water they observed in this “hot Saturn. This is the most likely reason why these two planets are different from each other.

By combining new data with old, researchers suggest that the planet also exhibits the signs of icy bombardment and this kind of bombardment would only be possible if WASP-39b formed much further away from its host star than it is right now. Today, the exoplanet orbits relatively close to its host star and has extremely high temperature.

Although such planets are not found in our solar system, WASP-39b can provide new insights into how and where planets form around a star.

"WASP-39b shows exoplanets are full of surprises and can have very different compositions than those of our Solar System," said co-author David Sing from the University of Exeter, UK. “Hopefully, this diversity we see in exoplanets will help us figure out all the different way a planet can form and evolve.”

Researchers are hoping to see a more clear picture of WASP-39b’s atmosphere with longer wavelength coverage of James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2019. This is beyond what Hubble can detect.

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