Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Helium Discovered in Atmosphere of Exoplanet for the First Time

Article Written By: Kyle Tam


 An international team of astronomers has detected helium - the second-most abundant element in the Universe - in the atmosphere of WASP-107b, a giant Neptune-sized exoplanet located about 200 light-years away in the Virgo constellation.
 Using the Wide Field Camera 3 instrument on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the research team led by University of Exeter astronomer Jessica Spake discovered this element in the exoplanet.
WASP-107b is one of the lowest density planets currently known. Although it is the same size of Jupiter, it has only 12% of Jupiter's mass.
 “The amount of helium detected in WASP-107b’s atmosphere of is so large that its upper atmosphere must extend tens of thousands of miles out into space,” the astronomers said.
 “The strong signal from helium we measured demonstrates a new technique to study upper layers of exoplanet atmospheres in a wider range of planets,” Spake said. “Current methods, which use UV 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.”

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