STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

This exoplanet is inflated like a balloon

A newly discovered exoplanet 124 light-years away is just full of hot air, according to a new study.H...

Posted: Dec 6, 2018 7:28 PM
Updated: Dec 6, 2018 7:28 PM

A newly discovered exoplanet 124 light-years away is just full of hot air, according to a new study.

HAT-P-11b, about the size of Neptune and four times larger than Earth, was found in the Cygnus constellation.

Celestial bodies and objects

Exoplanets

Planets and moons

Science

Space and astronomy

The planet is considered a "warm Neptune," with an average temperature of 1,022 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, Neptune is the farthest planet in our solar system from the sun, making it one of the coldest, and its average temperature is negative 353 degrees Fahrenheit.

HAT-P-11b is 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun. Its atmosphere is full of helium, swollen like an inflated balloon. And much like a balloon caught in the wind, helium is escaping from the atmosphere in an extended cloud.

Helium, although rare on Earth, is the second most common element in the universe after hydrogen. It's present in Jupiter and Saturn and is widely thought to be detectable in the atmospheres of exoplanets. But it was only found in the atmosphere of a gas giant exoplanet called WASP-107b this year. The helium itself was hard to detect because the infrared signature of the element is out of the range for instruments used.

Now, for the first time, scientists were able to have detailed observation of how helium is escaping from this gaseous exoplanet's atmosphere. The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.

"Helium is blown away from the day side of the planet to its night side at over 10,000 kilometers an hour," said Vincent Bourrier, study co-author and member of the European Research Council's Future of Upper Atmospheric Characterisation of Exoplanets with Spectroscopy project. "Because it is such a light gas, it escapes easily from the attraction of the planet and forms an extended cloud all around it."

What enabled this discovery? A new instrument called Carmenes, which is on the 4-meter ground-based telescope at the observatory of Calar Alto in Andalusia, Spain. Carmenes is a spectrograph, which separates a star's light into the colors that make it up -- not unlike a rainbow. This uncovers the spectrum, a measurement of the number of colors that compose this light.

Though humans can't see any color beyond red when looking at this resolution with the naked eye, the Hubble Space Telescope's infrared eye can see hundreds of colors.

Carmenes can pick up more than 100,000 colors within the infrared.

The spectrum allowed scientists to pick out not only helium's signature but the position and speed of the element's atoms within HAT-P-11b's upper atmosphere.

"This is a really exciting discovery, particularly as helium was only detected in exoplanet atmospheres for the first time earlier this year," Jessica Spake, study author and Ph.D. student in the University of Exeter's Physics and Astronomy Department, said in a statement. "The observations show helium being blasted away from the planet by radiation from its host star. Hopefully we can use this new study to learn what types of planets have large envelopes of hydrogen and helium, and how long they can hold the gases in their atmospheres."

Spake also led the first pioneering detection of helium on WASP-107b this year.

So why is Hat-P-11b balloon-like? The planet's close distance to its star seems to be the main culprit.

"We suspected that this proximity with the star could impact the atmosphere of this exoplanet," said Romain Allart, first author on the study and Ph.D. student at the University of Geneva. "The new observations are so precise that the exoplanet atmosphere is [undoubtedly] inflated by the stellar radiation and escapes to space."

The research team believes that this detection, combined with the other one from earlier in the year, will open up a new way to observe the extreme atmospheres of some of the hottest exoplanets -- and that these observations can be done using ground-based telescopes outfitted with innovative instruments.

"These are exciting times for the search of atmospheric signatures in exoplanets," said Christophe Lovis in a statement. Lovis is the study's co-author and a senior lecturer at the University of Geneva. "This result will enhance the interest of the scientific community for these instruments. Their number and their geographical distribution will allow us to cover the entire sky, in search for evaporating exoplanets."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 42772

Reported Deaths: 1542
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin13697791
Ramsey5313234
Dakota275396
Stearns253619
Anoka2458111
Nobles16946
Washington130641
Olmsted130220
Mower9872
Scott8994
Rice8928
Clay62038
Kandiyohi5951
Blue Earth5862
Wright5475
Carver5002
Todd4042
Sherburne3725
Lyon3512
Freeborn3140
Watonwan2720
Steele2501
Benton2423
St. Louis23816
Nicollet20712
Martin1755
Winona15015
Cottonwood1420
Goodhue1428
Le Sueur1361
Crow Wing11512
Otter Tail1151
Pine1150
Chisago1111
McLeod1030
Dodge990
Carlton940
Polk903
Unassigned8838
Pipestone864
Isanti830
Murray830
Chippewa811
Waseca800
Itasca7612
Douglas740
Morrison691
Becker680
Meeker661
Faribault610
Jackson580
Sibley572
Beltrami550
Pennington540
Brown492
Wabasha430
Mille Lacs412
Renville373
Fillmore360
Rock350
Swift351
Grant320
Houston320
Yellow Medicine310
Roseau280
Lincoln250
Redwood250
Koochiching221
Wilkin223
Norman210
Cass202
Big Stone180
Kanabec181
Wadena180
Aitkin160
Marshall160
Clearwater150
Mahnomen131
Pope130
Stevens110
Hubbard100
Lake90
Traverse70
Lac qui Parle50
Red Lake50
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35534

Reported Deaths: 754
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk7611185
Woodbury334944
Black Hawk253459
Buena Vista173811
Johnson14878
Dallas141531
Linn141083
Marshall110019
Scott109810
Dubuque100023
Story8778
Pottawattamie84113
Wapello71631
Muscatine69545
Crawford6813
Sioux5050
Tama48829
Webster4295
Wright3991
Louisa36713
Jasper35717
Plymouth3535
Warren3371
Cerro Gordo3291
Dickinson3073
Washington2559
Hamilton2041
Boone1751
Clay1511
Clarke1453
Clinton1391
Allamakee1384
Mahaska11917
Shelby1190
Carroll1171
Bremer1167
Franklin1130
Poweshiek1128
Pocahontas1091
Des Moines1022
Emmet970
Cedar961
Henry933
Hardin920
Cherokee851
Marion840
Floyd822
Guthrie814
Taylor810
Benton781
Monona780
Jones741
Butler702
Osceola690
Sac680
Jackson670
Buchanan651
Calhoun652
Iowa631
Jefferson630
Hancock621
Harrison620
Lyon610
Humboldt601
Fayette590
Delaware581
Madison562
Lee542
Mills530
Palo Alto530
Monroe527
Clayton503
Winneshiek500
Grundy470
Mitchell470
Winnebago440
Davis431
Kossuth430
Union430
Howard370
Lucas354
Unassigned350
Chickasaw310
Greene310
Cass300
Worth270
Appanoose243
Keokuk241
Ida230
Page220
Van Buren211
Audubon181
Adair170
Ringgold161
Montgomery152
Decatur130
Fremont110
Wayne110
Adams80
Rochester
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 76° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 74°
Mason City
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 82°
Albert Lea
Broken Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 73°
Austin
Scattered Clouds
77° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 79°
Charles City
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 79°
Slight Risk of Severe Storms Tuesday as a Cold Front approaches
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Getting Back to School physicals during the Pandemic

Image

'Cradle 2 Career' hosting discussion about race

Image

Dave's Main 6:30 Weather 7-14

Image

Sean's 10pm Weather 7/13

Image

Albert Lea council considers Covid response

Image

Rochester Police Policy Conversation

Image

Training the area's best basketball stars

Image

Pandemic Positive: A decline in air pollution

Image

Sen. Smith Highlights Health Inequalities

Image

School district weighs back to school options

Community Events