NASA discovers strange planet with Earth-like atmosphere

(CREDIT: ESO / M. GRAIN FAIRS)

A recently discovered “strange” planet has excited scientists in their search for extraterrestrial life.

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of New Mexico discovered the exoplanet TOI-1231 b orbiting an M dwarf star, also known as a red dwarf.

The scientists were able to characterize that star and measure both the radius and the mass of TOI-1231 b. This gave them the data they needed to calculate the density and hypothesize what the atmosphere is made of.

The planet, a temperate body the size of a subneptune with a 24-day orbit, is eight times closer to its star than Earth is to the sun, but its temperature is similar to that of our home planet because the red dwarf itself it is less powerful.

Its atmosphere is about 330 Kelvin or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, making TOI-1231b one of the coldest small exoplanets accessible for atmospheric studies discovered so far. High clouds may be present high in the atmosphere and possibly evidence of water.

“Future observations of this new planet will allow us to determine how common (or rare) it is for water clouds to form around these temperate worlds,” said Jennifer Burt, NASA JPL scientist and assistant professor in the Department of Physics. and Astronomy of the UNM, Diana Dragomir. adding that more studies will be necessary to understand precisely how it is composed.

“The low density of TOI 1231b indicates that it is surrounded by a substantial atmosphere rather than being a rocky planet. But the composition and extent of this atmosphere is unknown! “Said Dragomir.

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“TOI1231b could have a large hydrogen or hydrogen-helium atmosphere, or a denser water vapor atmosphere. Each of these would point to a different origin, allowing astronomers to understand whether planets form differently around of M dwarfs and how they compare to the planets around our Sun. “

Scientists can do this by investigating whether gas is being expelled and looking for evidence of hydrogen and helium atoms, something that is generally impossible because their presence is masked by interstellar gas. However, since this planet-star system is rapidly moving away from Earth, scientists are hopeful that it can be done.

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“One of the most intriguing results of the last two decades of exoplanet science is that, so far, none of the new planetary systems we have discovered looks anything like our own solar system,” said Burt.

“They are filled with planets between the size of Earth and Neptune in much shorter orbits than Mercury, so we don’t have any local examples to compare them to. This new planet that we have discovered is still strange, but it is a step. “. closer to being something like our neighboring planets. Compared to most of the transiting planets detected so far, which often have scorching temperatures of several hundred or thousands of degrees, TOI-1231 b is positively icy. “

The scientists’ research, titled “TOI-1231 b: A Neptune-sized Temperate Planet Transiting Nearby M3 Dwarf NLTT 24399,” will be published in a future issue of The Astronomical Journal.

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