May 24, 2024

Researchers have discovered the atmosphere around rocky exoplanets for the first time

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Keystone SDA | Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Astronomers have discovered for the first time clear evidence of an atmosphere around a rocky planet outside our solar system. This discovery using the James Webb Space Telescope surprised even the researchers involved.

“It was completely unexpected,” study leader Brice-Olivier Demauri told the Keystone-SDA news agency about the study, which was published on Wednesday in the specialized journal “Nature.” The researcher from the University of Bern, with an international research team, proved that the exoplanet “55 Cancri e”, which is located about 40 light-years from Earth, could be surrounded by a dense atmosphere.

Scientists base their findings on data collected by the James Webb Telescope.

1700°C

Demory explained that researchers actually did not expect there to be an atmosphere at 55 Cancri E. The extreme heat on the planet usually causes the gases that make up the atmosphere to quickly evaporate. However, previous studies have shown that heat is distributed throughout the planet, indicating the presence of an atmosphere.

This exoplanet, which was discovered 20 years ago, has a surface temperature of about 1,700 degrees Celsius. Its surface resembles a single sea of ​​lava. Researchers now suspect that this lava could emit enough gases to maintain the atmosphere despite the extreme heat.

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“Better understanding of our origins”

These results are also important to us, Demory said. “55 Cancri e” is the so-called super-Earth. “This type of planet is relatively common,” Demory said. “However, it does not occur in our solar system.” “As we discover more about super-Earths in other solar systems, we will get closer to answering the previously unanswered question of why this happens.” It is about better understanding our solar system and therefore our origins.

Scientists now want to make similar measurements on more distant rocky planets in order to discover additional atmospheres. However, Demory urged caution when interpreting the data. He noted that there may also be alternative explanations for the measurements made by the James Webb Telescope.