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Knowing the Magnetic Field of an Exoplanet’s Star is Essential to Determining the True Size of the Exoplanet

In a groundbreaking study led by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS), astronomers have proposed a novel way to determine the true size of an exoplanet. This new method involves taking into account the magnetic field of the star around which the exoplanet orbits. The research, published in Nature Astronomy, sheds light on a significant factor that has been overlooked in previous studies of exoplanets.

The study focused on the exoplanet WASP-39b, a gas giant discovered orbiting a G-type star by the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) consortium. WASP-39b, also known as “Bocaprins,” is one of the many “hot Jupiters” found in close proximity to its parent star. The researchers observed that traditional methods of analyzing light curves to determine the size of exoplanets were hindered by a discrepancy in the data.

Dr. Nadiia M. Kostogryz and her team of international collaborators from institutions such as Heidelberg University, Keele University, MIT, and STScI found that including the star’s magnetic field in their calculations helped resolve the discrepancies in the observational data. By considering the impact of the star’s magnetic field on the light curves, the researchers were able to accurately determine the size of the exoplanet.

The researchers used data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope to model the effects of the star’s magnetic field on the observed light curves. They found that the presence of a magnetic field influenced the shape of the light curve, particularly the limb darkening effect caused by the outer layers of the star appearing darker to the observer. By incorporating the magnetic field into their calculations, the researchers were able to reproduce the observational data more accurately.

Furthermore, the study revealed that the strength of the star’s magnetic field had a significant impact on limb darkening, with stars possessing stronger magnetic fields exhibiting less pronounced limb darkening. The researchers also extended their simulations to include data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and found that the magnetic field influenced limb darkening differently at various wavelengths.

These findings have important implications for the field of exoplanet research, as they provide a new framework for determining the true size of exoplanets based on the magnetic field of their parent stars. Dr. Alexander Shapiro, a coauthor of the study, emphasized the importance of refining models to interpret data from space telescopes like JWST.

Looking ahead, the researchers plan to apply their method to stars beyond the Sun, potentially leading to more accurate estimates of exoplanet characteristics, including mass for rocky planets similar to Earth. Additionally, the study highlights the potential for using light curves of stars to constrain the strength of their magnetic fields, a challenging measurement.

This groundbreaking research opens up new possibilities for understanding exoplanets and their host stars, paving the way for more precise and in-depth studies in the future.

References: MPS, Nature Astronomy

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Can Martian atmospheric samples provide greater insights into the Red Planet compared to surface samples?

Could Martian atmospheric samples teach us more about the Red Planet than surface samples? This is a question that has intrigued scientists and researchers for years, and a recent study presented at the 55th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference delves into this intriguing topic. The study, conducted by a team of international researchers, aimed to explore the significance of returning atmospheric samples from Mars and how they could provide valuable insights into the formation and evolution of the Red Planet.

NASA is currently focused on returning surface samples from Mars in the hopes of uncovering clues about the ancient history of the planet and the possibility of past life. However, the researchers behind this study argue that atmospheric samples could offer a unique perspective on Mars’ history that surface samples may not be able to provide. To shed light on this fascinating subject, lead author Dr. Edward Young, a professor at UCLA, and co-author Dr. Timothy Swindle, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Arizona, shared their insights with Universe Today.

Dr. Young explains, “We learn a lot about the origin of a planet from its atmosphere as well as its rocks. In particular, isotope ratios of certain elements can constrain the processes leading to the formation of the planet.” This highlights the importance of studying both atmospheric and surface samples to gain a comprehensive understanding of Mars’ geological and evolutionary history.

One of the key motivations behind obtaining atmospheric samples from Mars is to complement the data collected from surface samples. Dr. Swindle elaborates on this, stating, “We need an atmospheric sample to know what the rocks might have been exchanging elements and isotopes with. But we’d also like to have a sample of the Martian atmosphere to answer some basic questions about processes that have occurred, or are occurring, on Mars.” This dual approach could provide scientists with a more holistic view of the complex processes that have shaped the Red Planet over billions of years.

The study outlines several potential benefits of obtaining atmospheric samples, including gaining insights into the Martian interior, evolutionary trends in atmospheric compositions, nitrogen cycling, and sources of methane on Mars. The recent incident with the NASA Perseverance rover, where it inadvertently collected atmospheric gases instead of a rock core sample, underscores the importance of studying atmospheric samples alongside surface samples.

While the idea of returning atmospheric samples from Mars is still in the development stage, the researchers discuss potential methods for collecting these samples. Dr. Swindle mentions two proposed approaches, including flying a spacecraft through the Martian atmosphere to collect samples or using a sample return cannister on the surface of Mars equipped with an air compressor. Although there are currently no concrete plans for dedicated atmospheric sample missions, initiatives like the Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars (SCIM) have previously been proposed.

Looking ahead, the researchers emphasize the value of atmospheric samples in unraveling the mysteries of Mars’ past, including its potential for supporting life. Despite Mars’ current harsh conditions, evidence from past missions suggests a more hospitable environment billions of years ago, with flowing water and active volcanism. The quest to uncover whether ancient life existed on Mars remains a tantalizing prospect, and atmospheric samples could hold vital clues.

In conclusion, the study presents a compelling case for the importance of Martian atmospheric samples in advancing our understanding of the Red Planet’s history and evolution. As Dr. Young aptly puts it, “Only time will tell, and this is why we science!” The ongoing pursuit of scientific exploration and discovery continues to fuel our curiosity about Mars and the broader cosmos, inspiring us to keep looking up and delving deeper into the mysteries of the universe.

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