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 Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>