Astronomers Just Found a Planet They Didn’t Know Was Possible

“This kind of unexpected result is why I really love exploring."

5. 12. 17 by Dom Galeon
NASA
Image by NASA

Warm and Unusual

The easiest way to make sense of the various unfamiliar objects we find floating around in the cosmos is by thinking about them in the context of celestial bodies we are familiar with. Our Solar System has become the starting point for our analysis of other bodies, especially exoplanets.

Click to View Full Infographic

That’s how the term “hot Neptune” came about — it’s our way of describing exoplanets as massive as Uranus or Neptune but that orbit closer to their stars. We’ve already come across a number of these hot Neptunes, but one of the most recently discovered defies all expectations astronomers have about the exoplanets.

Located about 437 light-years away from Earth, HAT-P-26b is a hot Neptune that has a primordial atmosphere composed mostly of hydrogen and helium — an unusual mixture for planets very close to their stars. “Astronomers have just begun to investigate the atmospheres of these distant Neptune-mass planets, and almost right away, we found an example that goes against the trend in our Solar System,” said researcher Hannah Wakeford from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in a news release.

Different Strokes

Usually, massive planets have lower metallicities — a lower presence of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium in their atmosphere. For example, Jupiter and Saturn’s are five and ten times than that of the Sun, respectively. Smaller planets like Uranus and Neptune, on the other hand, have higher metallicities, about a hundred times greater than the Sun.

Advertisement

For hot Neptune HAT-P-26b, however, this standard fails. It’s metallicity is only about 4.8 times that of the Sun — much closer to Jupiter’s than to Neptune’s.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC

Such a discovery just confirms that there’s so much we don’t know about the universe and what’s in it. Assumptions that may be true for Earth or for the planets in our solar system may not necessarily be true for others out there. “This analysis shows that there is a lot more diversity in the atmospheres of these exoplanets than we were expecting, which is providing insight into how planets can form and evolve differently than in our solar system,” said University of Exeter’s David K. Sing, second author of the paper, which is published in Nature.

For Wakeford, it’s discoveries like this that make her work exciting. “This kind of unexpected result is why I really love exploring the atmospheres of alien planets,” she said.


Care about supporting clean energy adoption? Find out how much money (and planet!) you could save by switching to solar power at UnderstandSolar.com. By signing up through this link, Futurism.com may receive a small commission.

Advertisement

Share This Article

Keep up.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter to keep in touch with the subjects shaping our future.
I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its User Agreement and Privacy Policy

Advertisement

Copyright ©, Camden Media Inc All Rights Reserved. See our User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Data Use Policy. The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with prior written permission of Futurism. Fonts by Typekit and Monotype.