It’s roughly three trillion kilometers from here, a distance it takes light about three hundred years. However, on the gas planet TYC 8998-760-1 b, astronomers were able to determine the ratio between particle variables invisible to the human eye, they wrote Thursday. in the trade magazine nature.
This measurement, based on the signature that these particles leave in the light coming from the planet, heralds a new era. One in which these particle ratios should reveal, among other things, how far away the planet was born from its parent star, whether water flowed on its surface, and perhaps even whether life existed at all.
“This opens a new door,” says astronomer Carsten Domenek (University of Amsterdam), who was not involved in the research himself. They often make the most exciting discoveries with new information.
Think of us as detectives who have so far had to solve murders with fingerprints, but now also have DNA evidence, co-author Ignace Snellen (Leiden University) explains his team’s discovery. The “DNA proof” here is what’s called the isotope ratio, which is the ratio between the lighter and slightly heavier versions of the same element. In the case of analogy with the gas giant TYC 8998-760-1 b, it relates to the ratio between carbon-12, the atom which has six protons and six neutrons, and the slightly heavier carbon-13 which has an extra neutron on board.
The researchers looked at the planet with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and saw that it contained slightly more of that heavier carbon than expected. This is interesting because carbon-13 is more easily trapped in ice, indicating that the planet formed in a cold spot, far from its parent star. “This is not yet conclusive evidence of his birthplace, but it does show how the isotopic ratio helps reconstruct the history of such a planet,” says Snellen.
Come in March
In our solar system, isotopic ratios already provide valuable insights into the history of planets, moons, and asteroids. Take, for example, Venus and Mars, which contain a relatively large amount of deuterium, “heavy hydrogen” with an extra neutron. Perhaps it was because there was a lot of water in there. “When that evaporates over the years, the heavier water is often left behind,” says Snellen. “It would be very interesting to see something similar on distant worlds in other planetary systems.”
Dominic says the new measurement method could open the door to amazing new insights. Who knows: we may soon discover that some biological processes have a preference for a particular isotope. Then you can also use such an analogy to see if life exists in such a distant world – but now I dream a lot.
Astronomers were lucky to measure isotopes at TYC 8998-760-1 b because it was relatively large and far from its bright parent star, so they could correctly measure the planet’s light. But with new tools like sensitive Spectral edges +You can pick up these kinds of signals better and better, says Snellen, which is currently installed in VLT. “I think isotope measurements will soon become a constant element of research on these types of distant planets.”