For the first time during the exploration of deep space outside the solar system, astronomers have discovered a planet with traces of a magnetic field. For our Earth, the magnetic field is a kind of shield that protects the planet from the destructive radiation of energy particles of the solar wind. It is assumed that the presence of a magnetosphere on other planets will provide protection from harmful cosmic radiation and allow the development of organic life.
The magnetic field of exoplanet HAT-P-11b was discovered by astronomers from the University of Arizona using data from the Hubble Space Observatory. The planet’s dimensions are comparable to the size of “our” Neptune, and traces of the magnetic field were identified by a trail of charged carbon particles, stretching a long “tail” behind HAT-P-11b.
The study of the exoplanet was carried out in the ultraviolet spectrum. The distance from Earth to the unique planet located in the constellation Cygnus is 123 light years. Hubble’s instruments have detected carbon ions – charged particles that interact with the magnetic fields that surround the planet in the so-called magnetosphere.
According to scientists, for the first time outside the solar system, a planet with signs of a magnetic field has been identified. One of the project leaders at the University of Arizona, Professor Gilda Ballester, said that, like on Earth, the exoplanet’s strong magnetic fields can protect its atmosphere and surface from the harmful effects of energy particles from the solar wind. A protected planet has every chance for the emergence and development of organic life.
During the study, astronomers observed carbon ions not only in the immediate vicinity of the planet, but also in the “tail” area, where the particles “flew away” from HAT-P-11b at a speed of about 160 thousand kilometers per hour. The ion trail stretched behind the planet at a distance of up to 1 astronomical unit (the distance from the Earth to the Sun).
Scientists from Arizona were assisted in the study by astronomers from the Paris Institute of Astrophysics, who created a computer three-dimensional model of the interaction of the planet’s magnetic field with the upper atmosphere and the solar wind coming from space.
The physical processes occurring in the Earth’s magnetosphere and HAT-P-11b turned out to be identical. However, the exoplanet is too close to “its Sun” (1/20 of the distance from the Earth to the Sun), and the upper atmosphere of HAT-P-11b literally “boils away” and creates a “tail” of the magnetosphere. Scientists also found that the composition of the exoplanet’s atmosphere, namely its metallicity (the presence of chemical elements heavier than hydrogen and helium), is slightly lower than expected, which, according to the researchers, may “challenge the modern theory of exoplanet formation.”
The mass of HAT-P-11b is 8% of that of Jupiter, and scientists suggest that the exoplanet bears more resemblance to “our” Jupiter than comparable in size to the metal-rich Neptune.