Helium, Space

A new report suggests that the astronomers have detected the presence of helium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. The researchers said that this discovery shows us that it is possible to probe about the air of some exoplanets without any launching of a new telescope for them.

A team of researchers which is led by Jessica Spake who is from the University of Exeter discovered about the helium gas on “ Super-Neptune” exoplanet WASP-107b which is about 200 light years away from earth and now situated in the Virgo constellation. They have discovered this with the help of Hubble Space Telescope which shows the presence of helium in the upper atmosphere of the exoplanet. The strength of the helium which was detected by them is so immense that the researchers believed that it might extend upto tens of thousands of Kilometers into space.

To study the atmosphere of any exoplanet scientist has to wait till the planet to pass in between the host star and Earth. When the planet reaches this position, some of the lights from the star get blocked, and some other passes through them. This passing of light from the star changes and help the scientists to characterise the composition of the atmosphere. The researchers turned the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope towards the overheated world to study the infrared wavelengths. When they analyse the light that is passed through the WASP-107b’s atmosphere, the researchers can identify the helium gas in the excited state.

Helium is said to be the second most common element in the universe. This research shows that this gas is successfully discovered for the first time on a planet. As per scientists, this study will help in giving the way to discover more about this type of atmosphere which are present around the Earth-size exoplanets which are spread across the galaxy.

This research was published on May 3rd, 2018 in a leading scientific journal Nature. According to Jessica Spake who is a part of Exeter’s Physics and Astronomy department said, “We hope to use this technique with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, for example, to learn what kind of planets have large envelopes of hydrogen and helium, and how long planets can hold on to their atmospheres. By measuring infrared light, we can see further out into space than if we were using ultraviolet light.”

Tom Evans who is the co-author from the University of Exeter added by saying that, “The helium we detected extends far out to space as a tenuous cloud surrounding the planet. If smaller, Earth-sized planets have similar helium clouds; this new technique offers an exciting means to study their upper atmospheres in the very near future.”

Hubble is not the only tool that astronomers are now using it for their work. According to NASA, $8.8billion James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch by NASA in May 2020 and will help in making the same observations in space.


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