Researchers have discovered an exoplanet 90 light years from Earth that has an intriguing atmosphere: it could contain clouds of water. The discovery is part of a study led by Jennifer Burt, a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., And will be published in an upcoming issue of The Astronomical Journal.
Exoplanets are planets located outside our solar system. This newly discovered one is called TOI-1231 b, and it performs a full orbit around its star every 24 Earth days.
It orbits a red, or M-type, dwarf star known as NLTT 24399, which is smaller and darker than stars like our Sun.
“Although TOI 1231 b is eight times closer to its star than the Earth is to the Sun, its temperature is similar to that of the Earth because its host star is cooler and less bright,” said Diana Dragomir , co-author of the study. Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of New Mexico. She tells us that YOU 1231 b is larger than Earth and slightly smaller than Neptune. “We could call it a sub-Neptune. “
Why this exoplanet could have clouds
Once they were able to determine the radius and mass of the planet, the researchers were able to calculate its density and deduce its composition. Thus, they detected that it has a low density, which suggests that it is a gaseous planet, unlike Earth, which is a rocky planet. But it has not yet been possible to determine with certainty the composition of the planet or its atmosphere.
Burt told CNN that since TOI-1231b is very similar in size and density to Neptune, then it is possible that it has a similar gas atmosphere.
Dragomir thinks that “TOI1231b could have a large atmosphere of hydrogen or hydrogen-helium, or more dense water vapor. “
According to the study, the exoplanet has an average temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), making it one of the coldest. “Compared to most of the transit planets detected so far, which typically have scorching temperatures in the hundreds or thousands of degrees, TOI-1231b is positively freezing,” said Burt.
And this is what indicates the possibility of having clouds in its atmosphere, because the colder the exoplanet, the greater this probability.
Discovered in 2015, the exoplanet K2-18 b has recently been observed in more detail, and traces of water in its atmosphere have been noted. “TOI-1231b is one of the only other planets we know of with a similar size and temperature range, so future observations of this new planet will allow us to determine how much water clouds common (or rare) are forming around them, ”said Burt.
This makes the TOI-1231 an ideal candidate for observations of the Hubble Space Telescope – or the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in October.
Webb will have the ability to scan the atmosphere of exoplanets and help determine their composition. And Hubble is expected to observe the exoplanet later this month.
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