The planet, located about 26 light-years away in the constellation Virgo, is about 30 percent larger than Earth and nearly three times more massive, meaning it is a rocky world with stronger gravity than Earth.
GJ 486 b orbits a red dwarf star, completing one revolution in less than 1.5 Earth days, and is likely tidally locked, with a permanent day part and a permanent night part.
However, the signs of water vapor associated with the planet could indicate that it has an atmosphere, despite its scorching temperature and proximity to its star, the study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters says.
While water vapor has previously been observed on gaseous exoplanets orbiting such stars, no atmosphere has been detected with certainty around a rocky exoplanet.
However, the researchers warn, following the new discovery, that the water vapor could come from the star itself and not from the planet.
„Water vapor in an atmosphere on a hot rocky planet would represent a major advance for exoplanet science. But we have to be careful and make sure it’s not the star’s fault.” said the author of the study, Kevin Stevenson from Johns Hopkins University in the USA.
Because GJ 486 b’s host star is much cooler than the Sun, scientists suspect that even more water vapor could be concentrated in its starspots.
This could have created a signal that mimics a planetary atmosphere, they say.
Because the water vapor atmosphere could gradually erode due to heating from the star, even if there were an atmosphere, the researchers say it would have to be constantly replenished by volcanoes inside the planet.
They say further observations are needed to pinpoint how much water is present, if there is conclusive evidence of one.
The researchers hope to study data from multiple Webb instruments to conclusively determine the presence of water vapor.
„“Putting multiple instruments together will really determine whether or not this planet has an atmosphere.”a declarat Dr. Stevenson.
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