Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A gassy mystery: Researchers discover surprising exoplanetary atmosphere

22.04.2010
A Neptune-sized exoplanet orbiting a small star about 33 light years away could be a key stepping stone on the path to making sense of an Earth twin.

The finding is the latest advance in the quest to measure Earth-like planets that could possibly host signs of life, which researchers expect to find in the next few years.

"GJ 436b is the smallest exoplanet whose direct light we've been able to measure," said Kevin Stevenson, the University of Central Florida's first planetary sciences doctoral student and lead author of the study, which will be published Thursday, April 22, in Nature.

The results are surprising. Neptune-sized planets as hot as 800 Kelvin -- about 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit -- should contain high levels of methane and very little carbon monoxide, according to standard chemistry.

Instead, the researchers found 7,000 times less methane than expected and plenty of carbon monoxide, which suggests that scientists should be more flexible in their theories about the atmospheres of similar planets.

"This is unexpected," said UCF Physics Professor Joseph Harrington. "It's like dipping bread into beaten eggs, frying it and getting oatmeal." Stevenson and Harrington worked alongside colleagues from UCF, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University and NASA.

Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the UCF team measured the dimming of light as GJ 436b passed behind its star and re-emerged. The difference in the two light levels -- measured six times at different infrared wavelengths -- represents the light emitted by the planet itself.

The resulting data were used to figure out what molecules make up the planet's atmosphere. To do this, MIT Planetary Sciences Professor Sara Seager and postdoctoral researcher Nikku Madhusudhan simulated millions of chemical mixes under the planet's conditions to find the ones that best matched the UCF data.

The unexpected result puts GJ 436b in good company. "If you were looking at Earth from afar, you would be surprised to see oxygen gas in its atmosphere," Harrington said. "Oxygen reacts with surface materials and other gases, so you need something that continually produces it."

That something is Earth's abundant plant life. Oxygen is a "biosignature," or an indicator of life, Harrington says.

Using similar techniques to that of the UCF study, astronomers will seek oxygen and other biosignatures on habitable worlds that they soon expect to discover.

"We'll keep pushing the frontier, and this is just one more step in that direction," Stevenson said.

Christine Dellert | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucf.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Bare bones: Making bones transparent

27.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions

27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

From volcano's slope, NASA instrument looks sky high and to the future

27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>