The Hubble Space Telescope helped astronomers make a landmark discovery outside our Solar System. By using the powerful lenses of the telescope, they could spot traces of helium near WASP-107b. The cosmic body in question is an exoplanet, and it’s the first time when researchers spot the chemical element beyond the boundaries of the Solar System.
Scientists spotted helium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet
The European Space Agency released news about the remarkable discovery made with Hubble. By using Wide Field Camera 3, they could take a close look at the atmosphere of the exoplanet. This is how they observed this atmosphere contained traces of helium.
The observation was both unique and surprising, as helium is the second most common element in the universe. However, it was only spotted in the Solar System so far. The discovery is remarkable from another point of view as well. If Hubble could offer such good images of WASP-107b’s atmosphere, it means we can expand the study to other cosmic objects as well.
WASP-107b is an unusual exoplanet
WASP-107b is part of the Virgo constellation, at about 200 light-years away from our planet. Scientists described it as a super Neptune. The description comes from its properties, as the exoplanet has about the same diameter as Jupiter, but only a small part of its mass. As a result, it has one of the lowest densities every observed.
Its atmosphere is interesting as well. Given its proximity to the star, it performs a complete orbit in only 5.7 days. Therefore, it reaches temperatures of 932 degrees Fahrenheit which are definitely not friendly for life. The fact that it also contained helium was extremely interesting to observe.
Now that Hubble could take a look at the atmosphere of WASP-107b, it’s time to look at other exoplanets as well. Before this study came out, researchers used to look at the ultraviolet light present in atmospheres. This was a bit tough, since our own atmosphere blocks most of this radiation. Now, things have evolved and we might make more valuable discoveries.
The study on helium in WASP-107b’s atmosphere was published in the journal Nature.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons