Gargantuan Helium Tail Revealed Behind Exoplanet HAT-P-32b

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In an extraordinary discovery, exoplanet HAT-P-32b has been found to possess a massive helium gas tail emanating from its atmosphere. The scale of atmospheric gas loss is colossal with approximately 33.8 trillion tonnes being lost every year. Despite this, the process is set to continue for tens of billions of years, due to the planet’s vast size – twice as large as Jupiter.

Simulation of gas tails for exoplanet HAT-P-32b. Image Source: M. McLeod/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and A. Oklopcic/University of Amsterdam.

Scientists were already aware of the gas trail behind exoplanet HAT-P-32b, but recent observations have unveiled the true scale of the phenomenon. This breakthrough has provided ample data to begin the creation of a universal model for the behavior of exoplanetary atmospheres situated close to their stars. Using these models, researchers hope to predict the dynamics of exoplanets’ gaseous envelopes, even those less observable than HAT-P-32b.

HAT-P-32b, a gaseous giant, commonly referred to as a “hot Jupiter,” is located approximately 923 light-years from us. Its radius is about 1.8 times larger than Jupiter’s. The gas tail extends 53 times the planet’s radius, an unprecedented observation in the field of astronomy.

The exoplanet was discovered through the transit method, as it orbits its star every 2.15 days. Its close proximity to its star leads to extreme heating, with temperatures estimated to reach up to 1562 °C. This intense heat inflates the planet and its atmosphere, resulting in accelerated gas loss. This loss becomes evident during spectral analysis of the star’s light as the exoplanet transits its disk. The spectrum clearly reveals the gas trail’s volume following the exoplanet through the absorption lines of helium and hydrogen (Hα). However, the true scale of loss was only estimated after tracking HAT-P-32b’s movement behind its star.

The data startled the scientific community, who had not anticipated such immense gas tails. Despite this colossal ejection rate, HAT-P-32b will only entirely lose its atmosphere in about 40 billion years. “It’s fascinating to see how gigantic the elongated tails are in comparison to the sizes of the planet and its host star,” commented Zhoujian Zhang from the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the work.

“Our findings on HAT-P-32b could help us understand how other planets and their stars interact,” said astronomer Caroline Morley from the University of Texas at Austin. “We can perform precise measurements on hot Jupiters like this one and then apply our conclusions to a broader range of planets.”

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Vasyl Kolomiiets
Vasyl Kolomiiets
I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.

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