Helium is not only fun when it’s filling balloons at parties or when you inhale it to make your voice funny. Actually, it’s a gas that exists all over the universe. However, until now, experts have struggled to discover the presence of this element on other distant planets, even if they know for sure that it is there. But everything has changed now that a new planet the size of Jupiter has been discovered about 200 light-years away from Earth. And according to a study which the journal Nature published, that is only one part of the story.
According to astronomer Jessica Spake, the person who made the discovery and the leader of the study, hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Right after it comes helium. Planets like Jupiter and Saturn have a lot of it in their composition. However, up until this discovery, experts have not been able to detect it on exoplanets. But thanks to the Wide Field Camera 3 on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, Spake’s team managed to finally make this discovery, for the first time ever.
Helium discovered on an exoplanet
In order to finally discover helium on an exoplanet, the team used infrared spectra to study the atmosphere of that particular exoplanet. This is interesting because it shows that exoplanetary atmosphere can also be studied using longer wavelengths. The name of the exoplanet is WASP-107b, and it orbits a small, orange star. Despite being about the same size as Jupiter, it’s only 12% of Jupiter’s mass, making it incredibly light.
Moreover, the exoplanet only takes six days to make a complete orbit around its star. Its unusual atmosphere also gives it a tail like that found on comets. Apart from finding helium for the first time on an exoplanet, this study is important because it proves that sometimes, thinking out of the box might be the key to solving a lot of mysteries.
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