Researchers Discover Helium Abundance On Exoplanet For The First Time

An international astronomers’ team headed by Dr. J. J. Spake of the University of Exeter, UK discovered the presence of helium in large quantities on WASP-107b, an exoplanet located as far as 200 light years from Earth. This was made possible by the Hubble Space Telescope. The exoplanet was very much in the limelight discovered as it was only last year.  Its size is more or less similar to that of Jupiter though its density is much less, just 12% of the mass comprising Jupiter. The time taken by the exoplanet for completing a revolution around its host star is around five days or so.

This discovery was first of its kind as never before were researchers successful in discovering helium in any planet’s atmosphere lying beyond the Solar System. The technique of using infrared spectra for analyzing the extended atmosphere of the exoplanet proved successful. Till now, technique of using optical wavelengths and ultra violet spectra were adopted for studying the extended atmospheres of exoplanets. This had restricted the studies to nearer exoplanets but the success of the new technique will make it possible to bring a larger number of planets under the scope of research. Sophisticated telescopes like the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope will help to make it easier.

The helium amounts present in WASP-107b’s atmosphere are extremely high and this extends its topmost layer many thousand kilometers into outer space. Getting so many details of the extended atmosphere of WASP-107b with the help of infrared wavelengths is also first of sorts.

It is possible to measure the atmosphere of an exoplanet when it moves before its host star. And the more the quantities of element presence in the atmosphere the simpler is its detection. The outflows of a planet’s atmosphere are impacted by stellar radiation. WASP-107b in this context supports atmospheric loss. With the absorption of radiation the atmosphere is heated and this leads to rapid expansion of gases and its escape into space at a faster rate.

This study related to the abundant presence of helium on exoplanet was printed in Nature.

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