A Neptune-like planet that is relatively close to Earth may bring a watery surprise.
This exoplanet named TOI1231 b may have a large number of water clouds in its atmosphere, but the observations are so preliminary that it is difficult to determine.
“Future observations of this new planet will allow us to determine the pervasiveness (or rarity) of water clouds forming around these temperate worlds,” a scientist at NASA’s California Jet Propulsion Laboratory and lead author of the new study Jennifer Burt said in a statement from the University of New Mexico that the university was also involved in the study.
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Although observations from TOI1231 b indicate that this planet has a rich atmosphere, But the researchers warn that they cannot fully understand the composition of the planets. The model indicates that it has a dense atmosphere of water vapor, which may contain clouds of water, or a larger hydrogen or helium atmosphere than hydrogen similar to Neptune.
Confirmation may come earlier. TOI1231 b is only 90 light years from Earth, making it relatively easy to find at large observatories. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope could launch this fall and is optimized for observing planets with atmospheres, especially gas giants.
But even before that, the team will use the Hubble space telescope for observations, because one of the authors of the paper has reserved time for the telescope at the 31-year-old observatory. (These observations will depend on NASA addressing the computer glitch that has kept Hubble away since June 13.)
“With a technology called transmission spectroscopy, scientists should be able to use the Hubble Space Telescope and, soon, James Webb’s most sensitive space telescope. Telescope: Captures starlight passing through TOI1231 b’s atmosphere,” said the NASA in a statement on the discovery: “Molecules in the planet’s atmosphere will absorb some of the light in the spectrum, leaving dark lines that can be read like a barcode, revealing which gases are present.”
Hubble will also look for evidence of a “tail” of the planet, if when a planet passes over the surface of its star, hydrogen or helium atoms can be seen, and a “tail” will appear.
In general, hydrogen atoms are difficult to find because are very similar to interstellar gas, the research team said. However, in this case, the planetary star system is moving away from Earth at a fairly fast rate, giving u An unusual opportunity to detect possible zipper-like hydrogen atoms in a slower interstellar background.
We know something about TOI1231 b, which was detected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Study Satellite (TESS) and confirmed using the Carnegie Planetary Probe spectrometer on Chile’s Magellan Clay Telescope. TOI1231 b is approximately 3.5 times the diameter of the Earth and slightly smaller than Neptune. TOI1231 b also has an orbital period of 24 days, approaching a nearby M dwarf star only 90 light years away from the Earth.
Because M dwarfs are only a fraction of the size of the Earth’s sun, telescopes are more likely to detect dimming when large planets pass through the surface of a star (such as Tess) or “induce” gravitational swings during planetary orbits (observed by Magellan Clay Telescope). Arrived). Although
orbits close to its star, TOI1231 b has a relatively low atmospheric temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). Although this is more than twice the average temperature of the Earth, Burt said TOI1231 b is “very cold” compared to most transit planets, such as “hot Jupiters,” which usually reach hundreds or thousands of degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius. temperature. .
A study based on this research will be published in the Astronomical Journal, and a preprinted version of the article can be found in the arXiv database. You can also read more about TOI1231 b in NASA’s Exoplanet Archive.
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Elizabeth Howell is a writer for Space.com and one of the few Canadian journalists who regularly cover space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth has a doctorate. From the University of North Dakota in Space Studies and Master’s degree. From the same department. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Carleton University in Canada, and started her career as a space writer in 2004. In addition to writing, Elizabeth also teaches communication at universities and community colleges and government training schools. To view her latest projects, follow Elizabeth @howellspace on Twitter.