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Terbium Discovered in Exoplanet’s Atmosphere for the First Time

An illustration showing an exoplanet with Terbium. Image Credit: Bibiana Prinoth.

Scientists at Lund University have made a remarkable discovery in the field of astronomy. For the first time ever, they have found the rare element terbium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. This breakthrough was made possible by a revolutionary new technique for analyzing the chemical composition of celestial bodies. The discovery of terbium in an exoplanet's atmosphere opens up exciting new possibilities for understanding the chemical makeup of these distant worlds, and sheds light on the processes that shape their evolution.

Researchers at Lund University have discovered the rare metal terbium in an exoplanet’s atmosphere for the first time, thanks to a groundbreaking new method for analyzing these distant celestial bodies.

Terbium: Unprecedented Discovery in KELT-9 b’s Atmosphere

The galaxy’s hottest exoplanet, KELT-9 b, located 670 light years from Earth, has long fascinated astronomers since its discovery in 2016. With an average temperature of a staggering 4,000 degrees Celsius, the latest study in Astronomy & Astrophysics uncovers new insights into the scorching-hot oddball’s atmosphere.

Revolutionary Analytical Method Unveiled

The Lund University team has developed a new method enabling more detailed information to be obtained about exoplanets. “We have discovered seven elements, including the rare substance terbium, which has never before been found in any exoplanet’s atmosphere,” says Nicholas Borsato, Ph.D. student in astrophysics at Lund University.

Terbium: A Rare Earth Metal

Terbium, a rare earth metal belonging to the lanthanoid group, was first discovered in 1843 by Swedish chemist Carl Gustaf Mosander. The metal is extremely scarce in nature, with 99% of the world’s production occurring in Inner Mongolia’s Bayan Obo mining district.

Terbium and Implications for Exoplanet Research

Researchers typically detect exoplanets by measuring the brightness of stars, which decreases when an exoplanet passes in front of the star. The new method has enabled researchers to filter out dominant signals in KELT-9 b’s atmosphere, allowing for deeper exploration of other exoplanet atmospheres. Borsato explains, “Learning more about the heavier elements helps us determine the age of the exoplanets and how they were formed.”

Advancing the Search for Earth 2.0

The detection of heavy elements in ultra-hot exoplanets’ atmospheres represents a step toward understanding how planetary atmospheres function. “The better we get to know these planets, the greater chance we have of finding Earth 2.0 in the future,” concludes Borsato.

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