Scientists have now seen "inside" a planet, a new study said.
“This is the first time that we’ve discovered an intact exposed core of a gas giant (planet) around a star,” study lead author David Armstrong, a physicist at the University of Warwick in the U.K., said in a statement.
The discovery offers the unique opportunity to peer inside the interior of a planet and learn about its composition, according to the university.
The star and the planetary core, known as TOI-849b, are some 730 light-years away from Earth. The star is similar to our sun and the core is about the same size as Neptune.
TOI-849b is an extremely unusual exoplanet in the so-called "Neptune Desert" – a term used by astronomers for a region close to stars where we rarely see planets of Neptune’s mass or larger. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits stars other than our sun.
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So what happened to the gaseous atmosphere that surrounded this planetary core? One theory is that the gas was somehow stripped away, perhaps during a tidal disruption, where the planet is ripped apart from orbiting too close to its star, or even a collision with another planet.
Another theory is that it never had a gaseous atmosphere at all, which would make it a "failed gas giant." This means that once the core of the gas giant formed, then something could have gone wrong and it never formed an atmosphere.
The discovery is just the beginning of the research, scientists said:
“It’s a first, telling us that planets like this exist and can be found," Armstrong said. "We have the opportunity to look at the core of a planet in a way that we can’t do in our own solar system."
"There are still big open questions about the nature of Jupiter’s core, for example, so strange and unusual exoplanets like this give us a window into planet formation that we have no other way to explore," he said.
The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Planetary core discovered in distant star system, astronomers announce