Scientists using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have found evidence that a planet orbiting a distant star may have lost its atmosphere but gained a second one through volcanic activity.

The planet, GJ 1132 b, is hypothesized to have begun as a gaseous world with a thick hydrogen blanket of atmosphere. Starting out at several times the diameter of Earth, this so-called "sub-Neptune" is believed to have quickly lost its primordial hydrogen and helium atmosphere due to the intense radiation of the hot, young star it orbits. In a short period of time, such a planet would be stripped down to a bare core about the size of Earth. That's when things got interesting.

To the surprise of astronomers, Hubble observed an atmosphere which, according to their theory, is a "secondary atmosphere" that is present now. Based on a combination of direct observational evidence and inference through computer modeling, the team reports that the atmosphere consists of molecular hydrogen, hydrogen cyanide, methane and also contains an aerosol haze. Modeling suggests the aerosol haze is based on photochemically produced hydrocarbons, similar to smog on Earth.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/Robert Hurt