The powerful vision of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has allowed astronomers to study for the first time the layer-cake structure of the atmosphere of a planet orbiting another star. Hubble discovered a dense upper layer of hot hydrogen gas where the super-hot planet’s atmosphere is bleeding off into space.
The planet, designated HD 209458b, is unlike any world in our solar system. It orbits so close to its star and gets so hot that its gas is streaming into space, making the planet appear to have a comet-like tail. This new research reveals the layer in the planet’s upper atmosphere where the gas becomes so heated it escapes like steam rising from a boiler.
“The layer we studied is actually a transition zone where the temperature skyrockets from about 1,340 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 Kelvin) to about 25,540 degrees (15,000 Kelvin), which is hotter than the Sun,” said Gilda Ballester of the University of Arizona in Tucson, leader of the research team. “With this detection we see the details of how a planet loses its atmosphere.”
tres kewl. Smoke ring, anyone? well, burnt smoke ring. ;)