Hubble Telescope Finds A Distant Planet Evaporating At Record Speed

Posted: Dec 15 2018, 11:32pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 15 2018, 11:38pm CST, in Latest Science News


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Hubble Telescope Finds a Distant Planet Evaporating at Record Speed
Credits: NASA, ESA and (STScI)

The extremely hot exoplanet is losing its atmosphere at a rate 100 times faster than a previously discovered planet of similar size.

Astronomers have found evidence of a medium-sized planet disintegrating under the scorching heat of its host star. The planet, named GJ 3470b, is considered to be a “hot Neptune,” because it has a mass similar to that of our solar system’s gas giant. Its atmospheric temperature is more than 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. The extremely hot planet is evaporating at a rate 100 times faster than a previously discovered planet of similar size, GJ 436b.

"This is the smoking gun that planets can lose a significant fraction of their entire mass. GJ 3470b is losing more of its mass than any other planet we seen so far; in only a few billion years from now, half of the planet may be gone.” Co-author David Sing, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, said.

There are so many larger Jupiter-sized and smaller exoplanets with the size similar to that of Earth, but the medium Neptune-sized exoplanets are rare. Researchers hypothesize that smaller Earth-sized exoplanets could be the remnants of these more massive Neptunes that lost their thick, gaseous atmospheres and stripped down to a rocky core. Planets such as GJ 3470b could explain the existence of exoplanets roughly the size of Earth that orbit very close to their stars and are extremely hot.

GJ 3470b is located 96 light-years away and orbits a red dwarf star in the direction of the constellation Cancer. Its host star is only 2 billion years old. It is relatively active and powerful and is able to send more radiation towards its planet’s atmosphere.

Because the phenomenon can only be studied in UV light, researchers used Hubble's ultraviolet capability and exquisite precision to observe GJ 3470b as it passes in front of its star. Researchers found that the hydrogen-enveloped atmosphere of this warm exoplanet is rapidly disappearing due to extreme radiation from its host star. Researchers also estimates that GJ 3470b may have already lost up to 35 percent of its total mass. If the planet continues to lose material at the current rate, its atmosphere will be completely evaporated and it will shrink down to a smaller planet in a few billion years, leaving behind only a solid, rocky core.

"I think this is the first case where this is so dramatic in terms of planetary evolution," said lead researcher Vincent Bourrier from University of Geneva in Sauverny, Switzerland. "It's one of the most extreme examples of a planet undergoing a major mass-loss over its lifetime. This sizable mass loss has major consequences for its evolution, and it impacts our understanding of the origin and fate of the population of exoplanets close to their stars."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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