Release 426 of 1,087

Hubble Finds that Extrasolar Planet Has a Hazy Sunset

Release date: Dec 11, 2007 10:00 AM (EST)

A team of astronomers, led by Frederic Pont from the Geneva University Observatory in Switzerland, has detected for the first time strong evidence of hazes in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a distant star. The new Hubble Space Telescope observations were made as the extrasolar planet, dubbed HD 189733b, passed in front of its parent star in an eclipse. As the light from the star briefly passes through the exoplanet's atmosphere, the gases in the atmosphere stamp their unique spectral fingerprints on the starlight. Where the scientists had expected to see the fingerprints of sodium and potassium, there were none; implying that high-level hazes (with an altitude of nearly 2,000 miles) are responsible for blocking the light from these elements.