A Neptune-size planet appears to be masquerading as a comet, with a gargantuan stream of gas flowing behind it like a comet's tail. The bizarre find is the first of its kind ever discovered by astronomers. The strange, cometlike planet, known as GJ 436b, is orbiting a red dwarf star and is about 22 times as massive as Earth. Astronomers detected the giant gas cloud around the planet using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory. "I was astonished by the mere size of the cloud of gas escaping from the planet," said study lead author David Ehrenreich, an astronomer at the observatory of the University of Geneva in Switzerland. GJ 436b, located about 33 light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo, is a kind of world known as a warm Neptune. Ehrenreich noted that the Kepler spacecraft, as well as NASA's upcoming TESS space mission and the European Space Agency's future CHEOPS and PLATO spacecraft "are poised to find thousands of system like GJ 436in the coming years." This suggests that many other planets with cometlike tails could soon be discovered.
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