Hubble detects helium in exoplanet atmosphere


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Using the Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have for the first time detected helium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet.

The team made the detection by analysing the infrared spectrum of the atmosphere of WASP-107b [1]. 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.

…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

The important aspect of this detection is the use of infrared, which gives astronomers another tool to study exoplanets.

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