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Dramatic change spotted on a faraway planet

28 June 2012





Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have seen dramatic changes in the upper atmosphere of a faraway planet. Just after a violent flare on its parent star bathed it in intense X-ray radiation, the planet’s atmosphere gave off a powerful burst of evaporation. The observations give a tantalising glimpse of the changing climates and weather on planets outside our Solar System.

Astronomer Alain Lecavelier des Etangs (CNRS-UPMC, France) and his team used Hubble to observe the atmosphere of exoplanet HD 189733b [1] during two periods in early 2010 and late 2011, as it was silhouetted against its parent star [2]. While backlit in this way, the planet’s atmosphere imprints its chemical signature on the starlight, allowing astronomers to decode what is happening on scales that are too tiny to image directly. The observations were carried out in order to confirm what the team had previously seen once before in a different…