October 1, 2022

Astronomers believe liquid jewels rain on this sizzling exoplanet that has metal vapour clouds, Science News

Astronomers believe liquid jewels rain on this sizzling exoplanet that has metal vapour clouds.

This study, published in Nature Astronomy, is a big step in deciphering the global cycles of matter and energy in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, an international collaboration of scientists led by Thomas Mikal-Evans from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) in Heidelberg, Germany, investigated the atmospheric properties of the hot Jupiter WASP-121 b.

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Astronomers had discovered this exoplanet in 2015 in the constellation Puppis at a distance of 855 light-years. Its mass is about 20 per cent greater than that of Jupiter, while WASP-121 b has a diameter that is nearly twice as large.

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By including measurements from the dayside hemisphere, they determined how water changes physical states when moving between the hemispheres of the exoplanet WASP-121 b. While airborne metals and minerals evaporate on the hot dayside, the cooler night side features metal clouds and rain made of liquid gems.

This study is a big step in deciphering the global cycles of matter and energy in the atmospheres of exoplanets.

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Scientists have discovered more than 4,300 exoplanets. Some have been large gas planets akin to Jupiter. Others have been smaller, rocky Earth-like worlds, the kind considered candidates for harboring life, but currently available scientific instruments tell us little about their atmospheres.

“Despite the discovery of thousands of exoplanets, we’ve only been able to study the atmospheres of a small fraction due to the challenging nature of the observations,” says astronomer Thomas Mikal-Evans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.

“We’re now moving beyond taking isolated snapshots of specific regions of exoplanet atmospheres, to study them as the 3D systems they truly are,” he adds.

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The chemical composition of an atmosphere can tell a lot about a planet and its habitability. Scientists are interested in looking at the combination of gases in the atmospheres of Earth-like exoplanets, with a mix of oxygen, carbon dioxide and methane like that of our own planet a potential indication of life.

“The amount of carbon and oxygen in the atmosphere provides clues on where these kinds of planets form,” Mikal-Evans explains

“We saw this water feature and mapped how it changed at different parts of the planet’s orbit.” 

“That encodes information about what the temperature of the planet’s atmosphere is doing as a function of altitude.”

“These winds are much faster than our jet stream, and can probably move clouds across the entire planet in about 20 hours,” says astrophysicist Tansu Daylan of MIT.

(With inputs from agencies)


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