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Exoplanet may be brimming with oxygen but not life, say Researchers

Astronomer Laura Schaefer and her colleagues examined the question of what would happen to GJ 1132b over time if it began with a steamy, water-rich atmosphere

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Little Cub galaxy
The Little Cub galaxy - so called because it sits in the Ursa Major or Great Bear constellation. Galaxy (Representational Image). Wikimedia
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New York, August 19: A Venus-like exoplanet may have an atmosphere with oxygen but not life, researchers report, adding that their magma ocean-atmosphere model can help solve the puzzle of how Venus evolved over time.

The distant planet GJ 1132b is located just 39 light-years from Earth. It might have an atmosphere despite being baked to a temperature of around 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This planet might be the first time we detect oxygen on a rocky planet outside the solar system,” said study co-author Robin Wordsworth from Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Astronomer Laura Schaefer from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and her colleagues examined the question of what would happen to GJ 1132b over time if it began with a steamy, water-rich atmosphere.

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Orbiting so close to its star, at a distance of just 1.4 million miles, the planet is flooded with ultraviolet or UV light.

UV light breaks apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, both of which then can be lost into space.

However, since hydrogen is lighter it escapes more readily, while oxygen lingers behind.

“On cooler planets, oxygen could be a sign of alien life and habitability. But on a hot planet like GJ 1132b, it’s a sign of the exact opposite — a planet that’s being baked and sterilised,” said Schaefer in a statement.

Since water vapour is a greenhouse gas, the planet would have a strong greenhouse effect, amplifying the star’s already intense heat.

As a result, its surface could stay molten for millions of years.

If any oxygen does still cling to GJ 1132b, next-generation telescopes like the Giant Magellan Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect and analyse it.

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Venus probably began with Earth-like amounts of water, which would have been broken apart by sunlight.

Yet it shows few signs of lingering oxygen. The missing oxygen problem continues to baffle astronomers. (IANS)

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Astronomers building small space telescope to explore nearby stars

The telescope uses a mirror system with coatings optimized for ultraviolet light. Together with the camera, the system can measure very small changes in the brightness of M dwarf stars to carry out the primary science of the mission.

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The name of the stars which astronomers will study are called M-Dwarfs. Pixabay
The name of the stars which astronomers will study are called M-Dwarfs. Pixabay
  • Astronomers are building a space telescope to study the nearby stars.
  • the telescope will be small along with a camera attached to it.
  • Studying these nearby stars will help astronomers help study the way planets orbit around the stars.

Astronomers are in the process of building a small space telescope to explore the flares and sunspots of small nearby stars to assess how habitable the space environment is for planets orbiting them.

The telescope with a diameter of 9 centimetres, or 3.6 inches, will be fitted on a spacecraft known as the Star-Planet Activity Research CubeSat, or SPARCS to be launched in 2021, to focus on stars that are small, dim and cool by comparison to the sun.

Astronomers through this feat will be able study the path of planets.
Astronomers through this feat will be able study the path of planets.

These stars — known as M dwarfs — are less than half the sun’s size and temperature and they shine with barely one per cent of its brightness.

The telescope will be built alongside a camera with two ultraviolet (UV)-sensitive detectors to be optimised for observations using UV light, which strongly affects the planet’s atmosphere and its potential to harbour life on the surface.

“People have been monitoring M dwarfs as best they can in visible light. But the stars’ strongest flares occur mainly in the ultraviolet, which Earth’s atmosphere mostly blocks,” said Evgenya Shkolnik, Assistant Professor at the Arizona State University.

Although the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope can view stars at ultraviolet wavelengths unhindered, its overcrowded observing schedule would let it dedicate only the briefest of efforts to M dwarfs.

Telescope can view stars at ultraviolet wavelengths unhindered. Wikimedia Commons
Telescope can view stars at ultraviolet wavelengths unhindered. Wikimedia Commons

The telescope uses a mirror system with coatings optimized for ultraviolet light. Together with the camera, the system can measure very small changes in the brightness of M dwarf stars to carry out the primary science of the mission.

M dwarfs are exceedingly common that they make up three-quarters of all the stars in our Milky Way galaxy as well as nearly 40 billion rocky planets in habitable zones around these stars, meaning that most of the habitable-zone planets in our galaxy orbit M dwarfs.

Capturing lengthy observations of M dwarfs will let astronomers study how stellar activity affects planets that orbit the star. IANS