FORT DAVIS (KMID/KPEJ)- Astronomers used observations as The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory to discover some of the longest tails of gas escaping a planet.

Nearly twice the size of Jupiter, planet HAT-P-32b is losing its atmosphere through jets of helium before and behind it as the planet travels through space. The tails are more than 50 times the length of the planet’s radius.

While these tails are not unheard of, tails as long as HAT-P-32b are remarkable. 

“It is exciting to see how gigantic the extended tails are compared to the size of the planet and its host star,” said Zhoujian Zhang, NASA Sagan fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Zhang led the team that made the discovery while part of The University of Texas at Austin HET Exospheres Project. The HET Exospheres Project studies the atmospheres of planets outside of our solar system.

According to the McDonald Observatory website, these tails can be the result of a collision freeing a trail of dust and debris. They can also be caused by the heat of a nearby star energizing and blowing a planet’s atmosphere into space.

For more information about this discovery and how it was detected, please visit the McDonald Observatory website.