NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope data solves exoplanet mystery?

With the help of NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope findings, scientists revealed the mystery behind the size gap noticed in exoplanets.

| Updated on: Nov 17 2023, 19:47 IST
Know the reason behind the shrinking of exoplanets. (NASA)
Know the reason behind the shrinking of exoplanets. (NASA)

NASA's retired Kepler Space Telescope, which was designed to study the Milky Way Galaxy and look for exoplanets may help researchers unveil why some of these planets have, what is called a "size gap". Over the years, more than 5000 exoplanets have been discovered. These planets have different sizes and masses as some are more massive than the Earth. Now, scientists may have come across a reason why the exoplanets are shrinking in size. Know what experts say about the phenomena.

Why exoplanets are shrinking?

According to research published in the Astronomical Journal, NASA's retired Kepler Space Telescope data revealed that the size of these exoplanets might be shrinking due to the planet's atmospheric losses. Jessie Christiansen, a research scientist at Caltech/IPAC and lead author of the study said, “There's something going on that impedes planets from reaching and/or staying at this size.”

The researchers studied 600 to 800-million-year-old star clusters which were discovered from NASA's K2 mission. The study revealed that the frequency of young, hot sub-Neptunes shares the same structure as Neptune. Now, the core of the sub-Neptunes may be causing the mass loss which is directed to the gap in the exoplanets.

Scientists also suspect that photoevaporation might be another reason for the atmospheric loss. photoevaporation occurs when intense radiation emitted by a star extracts the planet's atmosphere. This phenomenon only happened to young planets which are first 100 million years old of existence. Scientists are hoping to study more of such exoplanets in other clusters to confirm the theory behind atmospheric loss and exoplanet size gap.

About Kepler Space Telescope

It is a space telescope launched by NASA in 2009 to discover Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars outside our solar system. The telescope stopped functioning in November 2018, however, it discovered thousands of planets. Further, the mission was extended with was named as K2. NASA reported that it was the “first mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars.”

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First Published Date: 17 Nov, 19:47 IST