A planet about 950 light years from Earth could be the Looney Tunes’ Yosemite Sam equivalent of planets, blowing its atmospheric ‘top’ in spectacular fashion.
The planet called HAT-P-32b is losing so much of its atmospheric helium that the trailing gas tails are among the largest structures yet known of an exoplanet, a planet outside our solar system, according to observations by astronomers.
Three-dimensional (3D) simulations on the Stampede2 supercomputer of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) helped model the flow of the planet’s atmosphere, based on data from the Hobby-Eberly Telescope of The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory. The scientists hope to widen their planet-observing net and survey 20 additional star systems to find more planets losing their atmosphere and learn about their evolution.
“We have monitored this planet and the host star with long time series spectroscopy, observations made of the star and planet over a couple of nights. And what we found is there’s a gigantic helium gas tail that is associated with the planet. The tail is large — about 53 times the planet’s radius — formed by gas that’s escaping from the planet,” said Zhoujian Zhang, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of California Santa Cruz.
Zhang is the lead author in a study on the helium tail detected from HAT-P 32b that was published in Science Advances June 2023. The science team used data from the Habitable Planet Finder spectrograph, an instrument on the Hobby-Eberly telescope, which provides high spectral resolution of light in near infrared wavelengths.
The planet HAT-P-32b was discovered in 2011 using spectroscopic data from the Hungarian-made Automated Telescope Network. It’s known as a ‘hot Jupiter,’ a gas giant similar to our neighboring planet Jupiter, but with a radius twice as large. This hot Jupiter hugs closely in orbit to its host star, about three percent the distance from the Earth to the…