A major discovery in space came as a major surprise to astronomers, and it could cause a huge breakthrough in the search for life.
A big discovery in space by researchers at the University of Exeter could shake up our understanding of the formation of our solar system, and have a great impact in the search for life on other planets. Scientists using the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes found a distant planet, HAT-P-26b, that they’re calling a “warm Neptune” and has a primitive atmosphere made up mostly of hydrogen and helium.
HAT-P-26b is located 437 light years away, and is orbiting a star about twice as old as our sun. The paper, which was published in the journal Science, examines a planet that is about the size of Neptune, but is so close to its star that it is much, much warmer than the frigid version in our solar system.
It’s a significant find because it could have a major impact on how scientists understand how planetary systems are birthed and later develop. HAT-P-26b will be a fascinating subject for future study, with an atmosphere almost totally clear of clouds but a significant, although not strong, water signature.
Professor David Sing, from the University of Exeter’s Astrophysics department said: “This exciting new discovery shows that there is a lot more diversity in the atmospheres of these exoplanets than we have previously thought.
“This ‘Warm Neptune’ is a much smaller planet than those we have been able to characterize in depth, so this new discovery about its atmosphere feels like a big breakthrough in our pursuit to learn more about how solar systems are formed, and how it compares to our own.”