Astronomers have discovered one of the strangest alien worlds so far.
There’s a distant planet in the galaxy, the size of Neptune which is both fascinating and strange.
Located about 124 light years away from Earth, the international team of astronomers led by the University of Geneva explains that the exoplanet’s atmosphere is filled with helium.
This odd feature has caused the planet to ‘sell’ to the shape of a balloon.
Scientists detected helium leaking from the planet’s atmosphere similarly as ‘a helium balloon might escape from a person’s hand.’
“This is a really exciting discovery, particularly as helium was only detected in exoplanet atmospheres for the first time earlier this year,” explained Dr. Jessica Spake, from the University of Exeter’s physics and astronomy department.
“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,” she added.
Dubbed HAT-P-11b the alien world is located in the Constellation of Cygnus.
To study the planet, astronomers made use of a spectrograph in Spain that allowed them to measure how much light the planet blocks from its host star as it passes in front of it.
The spectrograph allowed scientists to break down the stars light into component colors, just like a rainbow. Since Helium absorbs the light into a specific wavelength, astronomers were able to spot a large cloud of gas surrounding the planet, which blocked put more light than the planet itself.
Then, scientists used computer simulations to track the trajectory of the helium atoms.
“Helium is blown away from the day side of the planet to its night side at over 10,000kph. ‘Because it is such a light gas, it escapes easily from the attraction of the planet and forms an extended cloud all around it,” explained Vincent Bourrier, who led the computer simulation.
This is the reason why the planet looks like a balloon.
“Because it is such a light gas, it escapes easily from the attraction of the planet and forms an extended cloud all around it.”
“We suspected that this proximity with the star could impact the atmosphere of this exoplanet,” explained Romain Allart, a Ph.D. student at UNIGE and first author of the study.
“The new observations are so precise that the exoplanet atmosphere is undoubtedly inflated by the stellar radiation and escapes to space,” he added.