Astronomers Discover Exoplanet 'Oddly Reminiscent' of Neptune With Possible Water Cloud Atmosphere: Report

An artist's rendering of TOI-1231 b, a Neptune-like planet about 90 light years away from Earth.An artist's rendering of TOI-1231 b, a Neptune-like planet about 90 light years away from Earth.

TOI-1231 b is the name of the exoplanet located outside of our solar system. Scientists say it is believed to be gaseous, not rocky, like Earth. The temperature of the exoplanet is more similar to that of our home planet, scientists say.

Astronomers have located a planet “oddly reminiscent” of Neptune, which is 90 light-years away from Earth with an atmosphere that may have clouds containing water, CBS News reported. 

TOI-1231 b is the name of the mysterious exoplanet located outside of our solar system. 

Scientists believe that this new exoplanet is similar to Neptune, in size and density, and as a result leading them to believe that it is also gaseous, not rocky, like Earth. They also explained that the temperature of the exoplanet is more similar to that of our home planet

"One of the most intriguing results of the last two decades of exoplanet science is that, thus far, none of the new planetary systems we've discovered look anything like our own solar system," said the lead author of the study Jennifer Burt. 

"They're full of planets between the size of Earth and Neptune on orbits much shorter than Mercury's, so we don't have any local examples to compare them to,” she explained.

TOI-1231 b was detected by a team of international scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of New Mexico.  They will published a report in an upcoming issue of The Astronomical Journal.

“This new planet we’ve discovered is still weird, but it’s one step closer to being somewhat like our neighborhood planets,” Burt said

The teams used data from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and confirmed using the Planet Finder Spectrograph (PFS) on the Magellan Clay telescope in Chile. The PFS revealed details about the mass and orbits of the TOI-1231 b by observing its gravitational influence on its host star, CBS reported. 

The study’s co-author Diana Dragomir said although the TOI 1231 b is eight-times closer to its star than the Earth is to the sun, its temperature that is about 140 degrees Fahrenheit, making it one of the coolest, small exoplanets, which is similar to Earth due to its cooler and less bright host star, she explained.

She further explained that the planet itself is actually larger than Earth and a little bit smaller than Neptune – which could be called a sub-Neptune, she said.

"TOI-1231 b is one of the only other planets we know of in a similar size and temperature range, so future observations of this new planet will let us determine just how common (or rare) it is for water clouds to form around these temperate worlds," Burt said. 

Dragomir pointed out that the low density of the TOI-1231 b indicates that it is surrounded by a substantial atmosphere rather than being a rocky planet. She adds that the extent of this atmosphere is unknown.

"TOI-1231 b could have a large hydrogen or hydrogen-helium atmosphere, or a denser water vapor atmosphere. Each of these would point to a different origin, allowing astronomers to understand whether and how planets form differently around M dwarfs when compared to the planets around our Sun, for example."

In just 24 Earth days, the TOI-1231 b will complete an orbit of its nearby M dwarf star NLTT 24399, also known as a red dwarf, the most common type of star in the Milky Way, a report said. 

Scientists explained that the new exoplanet was easier to locate since the NLTT 24399 is smaller and dimmer than the sun.

For NASA researchers these new findings are helping them move from detection of these unusual planets to actual observation of specific worlds and finding out  more about their atmosphere. 

Later this month, the Hubble Space Telescope will be used by researchers to further study the planet. They also hope to continue their observations and expand upon their research using the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch later this year, CBS reported. 


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