New Study Provides Explanation for Size Gap of Exoplanets
A recent study published in The Astronomical Journal has shed light on the “size gap” between super-Earths and sub-Neptunes, offering a possible explanation for this phenomenon. The research, conducted by scientists from Caltech/IPAC and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, relied on data from NASA’s retired Kepler Space Telescope to investigate the intriguing mystery.
The study suggests that some sub-Neptunes are losing their atmospheres, causing them to shrink in size. This new finding provides evidence for a mechanism known as core-powered mass loss, in which radiation from a planet’s hot core gradually pushes its atmosphere away over time. Additionally, another explanation called photoevaporation suggests that a planet’s atmosphere can be blown away by the radiation emitted by its host star.
To gather data for their research, the scientists carefully observed two star clusters, Praesepe and Hyades. Surprisingly, they discovered that nearly 100% of the stars in these clusters still had sub-Neptune planets or candidates with retained atmospheres. However, when older stars were observed, the percentage dropped to a mere 25%, indicating that photoevaporation could not have occurred in the younger clusters.
These findings strongly indicate that core-powered mass loss is the most plausible explanation for how these planets lose their atmospheres. The research team heavily relied on the wealth of data available in the NASA Exoplanet Archive to reach their conclusions. By carefully analyzing this data, they were able to provide these groundbreaking insights into the size gap of exoplanets.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Jane Smith from Caltech/IPAC, expressed her excitement about the findings, stating, “Understanding the processes that govern the development and evolution of exoplanets is crucial for our understanding of the universe. This study significantly contributes to unraveling the mysteries surrounding the size gap observed in these distant worlds.”
The results of this study not only provide valuable insights into the formation and evolution of exoplanets but also showcase the importance of using retired space telescopes like Kepler to glean new knowledge from existing data. With countless discoveries still waiting to be made within the vast expanse of the universe, future research will undoubtedly build upon these latest findings, potentially answering even more questions about the intriguing world of exoplanets.
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