Researchers have revealed the first weather forecast for alien super-Earth and a planet which was once believed to be very similar to Neptune. Scientists in the United States have characterized what the atmosphere is of the two planets outside of our solar system for the first time.
However this is something that may sound boring, talking about weather, but prior studies of two alien planets, GJ 1214b and GJ 436B, gave different versions of how various planets atmospheres could be. They might consist only of water vapor or some other type of molecule or they may contain clouds which would stop the observation of what was below. Scientists wanted to develop ways to assess the two atmospheres of the alien worlds so it may eventually aid scientists in finding possibly inhabitable planets that lie beyond our solar system.
The two alien super planets are about middle in size between rocky planets like Earth and the gas goliaths like Jupiter. GJ 436b had been known as a hot kind of Neptune; because it was nearer to its star than icy Neptune was located to the Sun. GJ 1214b was classified as being a super-Earth because of its size.
A team of astronomers, who were being led by Jacob Bean and Laura Kreidberg, both of the University of Chicago, stated that during their research they had discovered evidence of clouds being present in the atmosphere of GJ 1214b. This was from information that had been retrieved from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble used almost 100 hours of telescope time which were spread over nearly 12 months.
The telescope was able to collect images of GJ 436b orbiting its personal star. In examining them, the team saw that world appeared featureless.
That meant that this planet either had very high clouds which were hiding any view of things below, or it had no clouds at all. That would mean it was lacking in hydrogen, and that it was actually very unlike Neptune.
There were similar observations formed on GJ 1214b. Hubble also did not find any chemicals in the atmosphere. But in that planet’s case, information was so exact that the researchers were able to rule out cloud-free compositions of methane, water vapor, carbon monoxide, nitrogen and carbon dioxide for the first time.
GJ 1214b was discovered in 2009 and is located only about 40 light years from Earth. Because it is so close to our solar system and the tiny size of its personal star, GJ 1214b has become the most easily observed super-Earth. This planet orbits around its parent star, every 38 hours. This gives scientists a break to study the planet’s atmosphere quite frequently as starlight sifts through it.
However both planets tell the scientists about diversity of various planet types which occur outside of our solar system. With the new images coming in, the researchers are finding out that they might not know the planets as well as they once thought. They would like to determine exactly what the size is at which these planets change at. They want to know when the planets go looking from appearing like small gas giants to something like a water world or a rocky, bigger version of the Earth. Both observations are essentially trying to give answers to those types of questions. Hubble has made it possible.
Bean stated that he thought it was extremely exciting that they were able to use a telescope like Hubble, which was never designed with this kind of research in mind, to do such weather observations and receive such superb precision.
The research study results were printed up in two different papers in the British journal Nature.
It is just hoped that the scientists are better able to predict the weather on the alien super-Earth and the planet which may be like Neptune, than meteorologists seem to be able to do back here on Earth.
By Kimberly Ruble