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Helium Discovered in Exoplanet ‘Tail’

3 May 2018, 16:31 UTC
Helium Discovered in Exoplanet ‘Tail’
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Scientists have been saying for some time now that helium should be readily detectable in the atmospheres of gas giant planets — after all, this is the second-most common element in the universe, and we know it is plentiful at Jupiter and Saturn. The problem has been how to detect it, an issue which this morning’s story brings into sharp relief. At the University of Exeter (UK), Jessica Spake has put data from the Hubble telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 to good use, finding an abundance of helium in the upper atmosphere. The planet in question is the puffy WASP-107b, and this marks the first helium detection of the inert gas on an exoplanet.
Some 200 light years from Earth in the constellation Virgo, WASP-107b shows little similarity to anything in our own Solar System. It was discovered in 2017 and is one of the lowest density planets yet found, a world that, although roughly the same size as Jupiter, has only 12 percent of its mass. In a tight six-day orbit around its K-class primary, the planet has an atmosphere that apparently — judging from the amount of helium that Spake and team have found — extends tens of ...

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