The well-known extrasolar planet HD 209458b, provisionally nicknamed Osiris, has surprised astronomers again. Oxygen and carbon have been found in its atmosphere, evaporating at such an immense rate that the existence of a new class of extrasolar planets – ‘the chthonian planets’ or ‘dead’ cores of completely evaporated gas giants - has been proposed.
Oxygen and carbon have been detected in the atmosphere of a planet beyond our Solar System for the first time. Scientists using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have observed the famous extrasolar planet HD 209458b passing in front of its parent star, and found oxygen and carbon surrounding the planet in an extended ellipsoidal envelope - the shape of a rugby-ball. These atoms are swept up from the lower atmosphere with the flow of the escaping atmospheric atomic hydrogen, like dust in a supersonic whirlwind.
The team led by Alfred Vidal-Madjar (Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, CNRS, France) reports this discovery in a forthcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The planet, called HD 209458b, may sound familiar. It is already an extrasolar planet with an astounding list of firsts: the first extrasolar planet discovered transiting its sun, the first with an atmosphere, the first observed to have an evaporating hydrogen atmosphere (in 2003 by the same team of scientists) and now the first to have an atmosphere containing oxygen and carbon. Furthermore the ‘blow-off’ effect observed by the team during their October and November 2003 observations with Hubble had never been seen before.
Lars Lindberg Christensen | ESA
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