Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hubble detects helium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet for the first time

03.05.2018

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have detected helium in the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-107b. This is the first time this element has been detected in the atmosphere of a planet outside the Solar System. The discovery demonstrates the ability to use infrared spectra to study exoplanet extended atmospheres.

The international team of astronomers, led by Jessica Spake, a PhD student at the University of Exeter in the UK, used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to discover helium in the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-107b This is the first detection of its kind.


The exoplanet WASP-107b is a gas giant, orbiting a highly active K-type main sequence star. The star is about 200 light-years from Earth. Using spectroscopy, scientists were able to find helium in the escaping atmosphere of the planet -- the first detection of this element in the atmosphere of an exoplanet.

Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, M. Kornmesser

Spake explains the importance of the discovery: "Helium is the second-most common element in the Universe after hydrogen. It is also one of the main constituents of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in our Solar System. However, up until now helium had not been detected on exoplanets - despite searches for it."

The team made the detection by analysing the infrared spectrum of the atmosphere of WASP-107b. Previous detections of extended exoplanet atmospheres have been made by studying the spectrum at ultraviolet and optical wavelengths; this detection therefore demonstrates that exoplanet atmospheres can also be studied at longer wavelengths.

"The strong signal from helium we measured demonstrates a new technique to study upper layers of exoplanet atmospheres in a wider range of planets," says Spake "Current methods, which use ultraviolet light, are limited to the closest exoplanets. We know there is helium in the Earth's upper atmosphere and this new technique may help us to detect atmospheres around Earth-sized exoplanets - which is very difficult with current technology."

WASP-107b is one of the lowest density planets known: While the planet is about the same size as Jupiter, it has only 12% of Jupiter's mass. The exoplanet is about 200 light-years from Earth and takes less than six days to orbit its host star.

The amount of helium detected in the atmosphere of WASP-107b is so large that its upper atmosphere must extend tens of thousands of kilometres out into space. This also makes it the first time that an extended atmosphere has been discovered at infrared wavelengths.

Since its atmosphere is so extended, the planet is losing a significant amount of its atmospheric gases into space -- between ~0.1-4% of its atmosphere's total mass every billion years [2].

As far back as the year 2000, it was predicted that helium would be one of the most readily-detectable gases on giant exoplanets, but until now, searches were unsuccessful.

David Sing, co-author of the study also from the University of Exeter, concludes: "Our new method, along with future telescopes such as the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope/, will allow us to analyse atmospheres of exoplanets in far greater detail than ever before."

###

Notes

[1] The measurement of an exoplanet's atmosphere is performed when the planet passes in front of its host star. A tiny portion of the star's light passes through the exoplanet's atmosphere, leaving detectable fingerprints in the spectrum of the star. The larger the amount of an element present in the atmosphere, the easier the detection becomes.

[2] Stellar radiation has a significant effect on the rate at which a planet's atmosphere escapes. The star WASP-107 is highly active, supporting the atmospheric loss. As the atmosphere absorbs radiation it heats up, so the gas rapidly expands and escapes more quickly into space.

More information

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

The study was published in the paper "Helium in the eroding atmosphere of an exoplanet", published in Nature.

The international team of astronomers in this study consists of J. J. Spake (University of Exeter, UK), D. K. Sing (University of Exeter, UK; Johns Hopkins University, USA), T. M. Evans (University of Exeter, UK), A. Oklopči? (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA), V. Bourrier (Observatoire de l'Université de Genève, Switzerland), L. Kreidberg (Harvard Society of Fellows, USA; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA), B. V. Rackham (University of Arizona, USA), J. Irwin (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA), D. Ehrenreich (Observatoire de l'Université de Genève, Switzerland), A. Wyttenbach (Observatoire de l'Université de Genève, Switzerland), H. R. Wakeford (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), Y. Zhou (University of Arizona, USA), K. L. Chubb (University College London, UK), N. Nikolov (University of Exeter, UK), J. Goyal (University of Exeter, UK), G. W. Henry (Tennessee State University, USA), M. H. Williamson (Tennessee State University, USA), S. Blumenthal (Space Telescope Science Institute, USA), D. Anderson (Keele University, UK), C. Hellier (Keele University, UK), D. Charbonneau (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA), S. Udry (Observatoire de l'Université de Genève, Switzerland), and N. Madhusudhan (University of Cambridge, UK)

Image credit: NASA, ESA

Links

* Images of Hubble - http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/category/spacecraft/

- http://spacetelescope.org/videos/hubblecast102a/

Contacts

Jessica Spake
University of Exeter
Exeter, UK
Email: jspake@astro.ex.ac.uk

David Sing
University of Exeter
Exeter, UK
Tel: +44 1392725652
Email: sing@astro.ex.ac.uk

Mathias Jaeger
ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 176 62397500
Email: mjaeger@partner.eso.org

http://www.spacetelescope.org 

Mathias Jaeger, ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer | EurekAlert!
Further information:
https://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1809/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht APEX takes a glimpse into the heart of darkness
25.05.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie

nachricht First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR
24.05.2018 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

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: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>