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P-26b: Unexpectedly Primitive Atmosphere Discovered around Neptune-Mass Exoplanet
13 May 2017, 12:56 | Kristen Gross
Credit CC0 Public Domain
The planet displayed a preponderance of hydrogen and helium on much higher levels than seen in Neptune or Uranus - the two most comparable entities in our solar system when it comes to mass. That puts astronomers in a bit of a quandary when it comes to explaining their formation: Gas and ice giants are thought to form far from their star, so how did these planets come to be?
Such conclusions scientists from the United Kingdom and the U.S. made on the basis of data obtained from space telescopes Hubble and Spitzer.
Now, a team of worldwide researchers, co-lead by Hannah Wakeford from NASA and Professor David Sing from the University of Exeter, has carried out a detailed study of "Warm Neptune", Sputnik reports.
The content of heavy elements in the atmosphere of HAT-P-26b - referred to as its metallicity - appears lower than the trend observed with the four giant planets of our Solar System.
This study is going to redefine our understanding of the formation and development of planetary systems beyond our galaxy, suggest the authors.
"Astronomers have just begun to investigate the atmospheres of these distant Neptune-mass planets, and nearly right away, we found an example that goes against the trend in our solar system", said Hannah Wakeford, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study published in the May 12 issue of Science.
It's a memorable moment for the scientists involved.
Because the study provided a precise measurement of water, the researchers were able to use the water signature to estimate HAT-P-26b's metallicity.
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What's unusual about HAT-P-26b is its unexpectedly primordial atmosphere, composed nearly entirely of hydrogen and helium. "This kind of unexpected result is why I really love exploring the atmospheres of alien planets".
A recent study carried out with the help of NASA's Hubble and Spitzer telescopes have discovered a distant Neptune-sized planet - HAT-P-26b - which comprises of a primitive atmosphere comprising entirely of hydrogen and helium.
In our own solar system, Neptune and Uranus have much richer and greater heavy elements as compared to Jupiter and Saturn, which are mostly composed of hydrogen and helium.
The atmospheres of Neptune-mass planets could have arisen from many different sources, resulting in a wide range of possible atmospheric compositions.
HAT-P-26b, however, with a metallicity of just about 4.8 times the metallicity of our sun, runs closer to Jupiter rather than Neptune.
Astronomers say that's because Neptune and Uranus formed on the colder part of the disk of debris that circled our sun as the planets developed.
The researchers say this new finding will help them understand how exoplanets get their variety of atmospheres and offer clues as to how they form.
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