Astronomers have discovered an exoplanet of an extremely rare type called a hot Neptune. Hot Neptunes are so rare that astronomers even refer to the area close to a star as a Neptune desert.

Hot Neptunes are planets around the size of Neptune which lie close to their stars.

Astronomers think the reason they are so rare could be because planets of this size rapidly lose their atmospheres when they are close to their stars, and they are quickly eroded down to Earth size.

A team from the University of Kansas has spotted one such hot Neptune exoplanet in data from NASA’s TESS and Spitzer missions.

Planet LTT 9779b was investigated using a technique called phase curve analysis in which the infrared light being emitted by the planet is measured to see which parts of the planet are hottest.

Ian Crossfield, lead author of the paper said, “For the first time, we measured the light coming from this planet that shouldn’t exist. This planet is so intensely irradiated by its star that its temperature is over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and its atmosphere could have evaporated entirely. Yet our Spitzer observations show us its atmosphere via the infrared light the planet emits.”

“As well as being an unusual find, the planet’s location leads to some bizarre features as well. This planet does not have a solid surface and it’s much hotter even than Mercury in our solar system.

“Not only would lead melt in the atmosphere of this planet, but so would platinum, chromium, and stainless steel. A year on this planet is less than 24 hours — that is how quickly it’s whipping around its star. It’s a pretty extreme system,” Crossfield said.

The planet, an unusual object is a prime target for a follow up study using the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Astronomers can develop more accurate tools for searching for habitable planets in the future by using new techniques to examine the planet’s atmosphere.

Crossfield said, “As someone who studies these, there is just a lot of interesting planetary science we can do in measuring the properties of these planets, just like people study the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus even though we don’t think those will host life.

“They are still interesting and we can learn about how these planets formed and the broader context of planetary systems.” is all about South Africa and the stories that affect South Africans, wherever they are in the world.

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Reproduction without permission prohibited.


Atmosphere, Hot Neptune, Exoplanet, Star, Earth

World news – US – Discovered: Rare, hot Neptune planet that should not exist

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