Scientists announce landmark detection of isotopes in planet hundreds of trillions of miles away

Discovery is "really quite special."

Updated: July 17, 2021 - 10:39pm

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Scientists this week announced a major molecular finding located not on Earth but on a planet hundreds of trillions of miles from our own Solar System.

An international team of researchers "have become the first in the world to detect isotopes in the atmosphere of an exoplanet," the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy said in an announcement this week.

Isotopes "are different forms of the same atom but with a varying number of neutrons in the nucleus," the Institute said in its release. Scientists using the Very Large Telescope in Chile found "an unusual ratio between [carbon] isotopes in the atmosphere of the young giant planet TYC 8998-760-1 b," which resides 300 light-years from Earth.

The scientists "successfully distinguished carbon-13 from carbon-12 because it absorbs radiation at slightly different colours," the Institute said. 

"“It is really quite special that we can measure this in an exoplanet atmosphere, at such a large distance," study lead author Yapeng Zhang said.