Hubble Astronomers Study Distant Planets, Other Odd Finds
(Portland, Oregon) – Astronomers from around the world studying data from the Hubble Telescope have made two remarkable discoveries recently, including a new object in deep space that's puzzling and data from three alien worlds that threatens to put a new kink in the study of exoplanets.
Scientists looking for evidence of water in three planets between 60 and 900 light-years away have hit a bump, finding much less water vapor in their atmospheres than predicted in standard planet-formation theories.
"Our water measurement in one of the planets, HD 209458b, is the highest-precision measurement of any chemical compound in a planet outside the solar system, and we can now say with much greater certainty than ever before that we've found water in an exoplanet," said Dr. Nikku Madhusudhan of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, who led the research. "However, the low water abundance we are finding is quite astonishing."
The very low levels of water vapor found by this research raises a number of questions about the chemical ingredients that lead to planet formation, say researchers.
Madhusudhan said that this finding presents a major challenge to exoplanet theory, opening a “whole can of worms” when it comes to planet formation. Previous models caused them to expect much more water.
In the startling discovery department, Hubble researchers have come across a new and puzzling formation in the cosmos: a 100,000-light-year-long structure that looks like a string of pearls twisted into a corkscrew shape.
The "pearls" on the Slinky are superclusters of blazing, blue-white, newly born stars. The whole assembly, which looks like a tug-of-war, must result from the gravitational tidal forces present in the collision.
The super star clusters appear to be evenly spaced along the chain at separations of 3,000 light-years from one another.
Scientists consider this discovery quite a surprise, saying they've never seen anything like it. They believe it was likely short-lived, however.