NASA’s Hubble Unfolds Mystery Of Super-Puff Planet With Texture Of Cotton Candy (Photo Credit: NASA, ESA, and L. Hustak, J. Olmsted, D. Player and F. Summers (STScI))
Using many telescopes, astronomers are studying the activities of space but are not able to solve many mysteries. Now, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has unearthed a new and most unusual class of planets i.e. a “super-puff” with the density of cotton candy. It is to be noted that these super-puffy planets are located in the Kepler 51 system.
The system, actually boasts three super-puffs orbiting a young Sun-like star, was discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope in 2012. The fact that they had low densities was revealed in 2014. However, the recent Hubble observations allowed a team of astronomers to confirm that despite being a similar size to Jupiter, they are around one hundred times lighter.
The three exoplanets are puffed up in this way due to the expansion of their atmospheres, which consist of hydrogen and helium. But scientists are yet to know what caused the atmospheres to behave this way.
The recent Hubble observations allowed a team of astronomers to refine the mass and size estimates for these worlds — independently confirming their "puffy" nature. Though no more than several times the mass of Earth, their hydrogen/helium atmospheres are so bloated they are nearly the size of Jupiter. In other words, these planets might look as big and bulky as Jupiter, but are roughly a hundred times lighter in terms of mass.
"This was completely unexpected," said Jessica Libby-Roberts of the University of Colorado, Boulder. "We had planned on observing large water absorption features, but they just weren't there. We were clouded out!"
The team of scientists concluded that the low densities of these planets are in part a consequence of the young age of the system, a mere 500 million years old, compared to our 4.6-billion-year-old Sun. Models suggest these planets formed outside of the star's "snow line," the region of possible orbits where icy materials can survive. The planets then migrated inward, like a string of railroad cars.