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Hot Super-Earths' Atmospheres Get 'Stripped' By Radiation

Apr 14, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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Super-Earths may want to back off a bit. A recent study revealed a new class of planets outside our own solar system with atmospheres stripped away by their host stars.

The study, done by astrophysicists at the University of Birmingham and published in the journal Nature Communications reported about extrasolar planets with gaseous atmospheres that lie very close to their stars. With this proximity, these hot super-Earths get bombarded by a torrent of high-energy radiation.

This heat causes their "envelopes" to be blown or violently stripped away by the strong radiation.

Dr. Guy Davies of the university's School of Physics and Astronomy said it was like the planets, which have rocky cores and gaseous outer layers, were standing next to a hair dryer at its hottest setting, as per a press release via EurekAlert.

The team used data from the NASA's Kepler telescope to look out for and discover the observational evidence of this stripping away in super-Earths.

They used asteroseismology to distinguish the planets and the stars quite accurately. This process uses the stars' natural resonances to show their properties and inner structures.

This study can help in understanding the evolution of stellar systems and their planets, including our own solar system, as well as the role played by the host stars. These results show that planets might have looked very different in the beginning of time, particularly before their atmospheres were blown away by intense radiation from their sun or host star.

Super-Earths are planets that are more massive than our Earth but lighter than Neptune. Relatively small and hard to detect, these planets can be gaseous, rocky or both.

Scientists hope to learn more about this space phenomenon with new satellites that will be launched soon, including the NASA Transiting Exoplanet Satellite, or TESS, mission next year.

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