After examining a staggering thousand hours of telescope data – split between Hubble and NASA’s Spitzer observations – international scientists have discovered that a group of exoplanets scattered across the universe are inextricably linked by their atmospheres, marking a major step for the study of interstellar space. worlds.
It’s like a cosmic doppelganger situation, but one that could elucidate how the planets we know best, like Earth and Mars, formed once upon a time.
“Our paper marks a turning point for the field: we are now moving from characterizing the atmospheres of individual exoplanets to characterizing atmospheric populations,” said Billy Edwards, an astronomer at University College London and co-author of a published discovery study. Monday in The Astrophysical Journal said in a statement.
Think of it like this: Suppose you want to understand the sounds and syllables of all languages, but you only have five words to work with. Its pretty hard. But if you had 10,000 words to work with, you could find similarities between them, group them by language, and maybe extrapolate what the rest of the word register would look like. Eventually, you might even find a linguistic rule to help fully decode the architecture of the language.
Likewise, in the past, we only had the planets of our solar system to understand the different types of planetary formation. Over time we startedand today we have thousands and thousands of alien worlds at our disposal – a huge sample size ready to grow exponentially thanks to the .
So, with such a rich database of exoplanets, the researchers in the new study decided to start piecing together planets that might come from the same “language” to understand their classification and perhaps even take steps to find out. a unified theory of planet formation. It would be like the ultimate “linguistic rule”.
“Many problems such as the origins of water on Earth, the formation of the moon, and the different evolutionary histories of Earth and Mars are still unresolved despite our ability to obtain in situ measurements,” Quentin said. Changeat, astronomer at the University College. London and lead author of the article, said in a statement. “Large population studies of exoplanets, like the one we present here, aim to understand these general processes.”
For the study, the researchers specifically selected their 25 exoplanet subjects because the orbs already had a lot in common. They are super-hot gas giants that orbit relatively close to a host star – similar to our solar system’s sunset-colored Jupiter, which hangs around our sun.
The team basically wondered if there were more things they could add to the exoplanet similarity list, especially when it comes to atmospheres. Sure enough, the new study determined that some of these exoplanets do indeed share common atmospheric and even thermal conditions. Moreover, they exhibit common chemical properties and a few other things.
These similarities, in essence, have helped researchers find patterns between doppelganger exoplanets. Specifically, according to the paper, the correlations helped answer five important, but unanswered, questions about exoplanets. In a sense, these solutions could have brought humanity ever so slightly – very, very slightly – closer to a comprehensive understanding of how all the rocky, gaseous, icy, weird, and familiar worlds that speckle the universe came to be.
The team notes that more research is needed to strengthen some of their findings, especially some correlations regarding thermal similarities.
Yet the very depth of the work is a rather brilliant achievement. It’s extremely difficult to inspect an exoplanet, let alone the more than two dozen studied in the new paper. “Hubble has enabled the in-depth characterization of 25 exoplanets,” Changeat said, “and the amount of information we’ve learned about their chemistry and formation — thanks to a decade of intense observing campaigns — is incredible.”