Scientists have recently made a groundbreaking discovery regarding the atmospheres of planets beyond our solar system. They have found that some of these distant planets are actually losing their atmospheres, but not due to the strong winds from their stars as previously believed. Instead, a process known as “core-powered mass loss” is responsible for the leakage of these atmospheres into space.
Core-powered mass loss occurs when a planet’s hot core emits energy that pushes away its atmosphere from within. This unique mechanism has the potential to cause sub-Neptune planets, which are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune, to shrink down and transform into rocky super-Earths.
A recent study conducted by a team of scientists focused on analyzing exoplanet data collected by NASA’s Kepler 2 mission. Specifically, they examined sub-Neptunes orbiting stars in two star clusters. The researchers concluded that photoevaporation, the process by which a star’s radiation strips away a planet’s atmosphere, was an unlikely cause of atmospheric loss in these sub-Neptune planets.
Instead, the study suggests that the core-pushing mechanism is the main culprit for atmospheric escape in planets that are approximately 800 million years old. Without enough mass, these planets are unable to hold on to their atmospheres, resulting in a significant reduction in size.
This groundbreaking finding sheds light on an intriguing aspect of planetary dynamics and may explain why there are relatively few exoplanets that are similar in size to Earth. The researchers believe that this core-powered mass loss process is responsible for the scarcity of exoplanets that are around 1.5 to two times the size of Earth.
The implications of this research extend far beyond our own solar system, as understanding the mechanisms of atmospheric loss in distant planets can provide valuable insights into planet formation and the habitability of these alien worlds. With each new discovery, scientists are getting closer to unraveling the mysteries of the universe and our place within it.
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