An international team of astronomers using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has made an unparalleled observation, detecting significant changes in the atmosphere of a planet located beyond our solar system.
The scientists conclude the atmospheric variations occurred in response to a powerful eruption on the planet’s host star, an event observed by NASA’s Swift satellite. The stellar flare, which hit the planet like 3 million X-flares from our own sun, blasted material from the planet’s atmosphere at a rate of at least 1,000 tons per second.
The exoplanet HD 189733b lies so near its star that it completes an orbit every 2.2 days. In late 2011, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope found that the planet’s upper atmosphere was streaming away at speeds exceeding 300,000 mph. e.
HD 189733b is a gas giant similar to Jupiter, but about 14 percent larger and more massive. The planet circles its star at a distance of only 3 million miles, or about 30 times closer than Earth’s distance from the sun, and completes an orbit every 2.2 days. Its star, named HD 189733A, is about 80 percent the size and mass of our sun.