It’s the first time when astronomers have seen helium in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system. The leader of an international team of researchers, Jessica Spake (University of Exeter), said that they discovered inert gas on ‘super-Neptune’ exoplanet named WASP-107b. The exoplanet is 200 light years away from our planet and is in the constellation of Virgo.
After observing the plant with the Hubble Space Telescope, the exoplanet seemed to have helium in the upper atmosphere. It was so much helium out there, that the scientists believe it has a huge upper atmosphere, spreading into space for tens of thousands of kilometers.
A Huge Cloud of Helium Spreading Into Space
Co-author of the study and colleague at the University of Exeter, Tom Evans explains their findings:
“The helium we detected extends far out to space as a tenuous cloud surrounding the planet. If smaller, Earth-sized planets have similar helium clouds, this new technique offers an exciting means to study their upper atmospheres in the very near future.”
With this breakthrough, scientists can now study other Earth-sized exoplanets in the galaxy and check out their atmospheres. Even though helium is a common element in the universe and should exist on giant exoplanets, this is the first time scientists have a proof of successfully finding it.
Jessica Spake said that their research has just begun:
“We hope to use this technique with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, for example, to learn what kind of planets have large envelopes of hydrogen and helium, and how long planets can hold on to their atmospheres. By measuring infrared light, we can see further out into space than if we were using ultraviolet light.”
Helium was first discovered in 1868 as a yellow spectral line signature found in sunlight. The astronomer Norman Lockyer proposed that it should be added as a new element, and named it after Helios, the Greek Titan of the Sun. It is a fitting name, as helium is the main constituent in our Solar System and on planets like Jupiter and Saturn.
You can find more information reading the research study published in the scientific journal, Nature.
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