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HubbleSite Hubble Detects Helium in the Atmosphere of an Exoplanet for the First Time

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Space Telescope Science



There may be no shortage of balloon-filled birthday parties or people with silly high-pitched voices on the planet WASP-107b. That's because NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was used to detect helium in the atmosphere for the first time ever on a world outside of our solar system. The discovery demonstrates the ability to use infrared spectra to study exoplanet atmospheres.

Though as far back as 2000 helium was predicted to be one of the most readily-detectable gases on giant exoplanets, until now helium had not been found — despite searches for it. Helium was first discovered on the Sun, and is the second-most common element in the universe after hydrogen. It's one of the main constituents of the planets Jupiter and Saturn.

An international team of astronomers led by Jessica Spake of the University of Exeter, UK, used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to discover helium. The atmosphere of WASP-107b must stretch tens of thousands of miles out into space. This is the first time that such an extended atmosphere has been discovered at infrared wavelengths.

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