Hubble uncovers a 'heavy metal' exoplanet shaped like a football
Hubble uncovers a 'heavy metal' exoplanet shaped like a football
Hubble telescope spots WASP-121b, a scorching hot 'heavy metal' planet
03 August, 2019, 15:43
Its odd, football-like shape is also due to the planet's close proximity to the host star as it is on the verge of being ripped apart by the star's gravity. The exoplanet is 12% to 24% heavier than Jupiter, but the heat that WASP121-b absorbs from its sun puffs up the planet to a radius of about 70% wider than Jupiter's. The answer is when heavy metals are detected escaping from the planet's atmosphere, instead of condensing into clouds.
Astronomers knew WASP-121b was an extremely hot planet when they started investigating it using the Hubble Space Telescope. Therefore, unlike other hot Jupiters that are still cool enough to condense iron and magnesium into clouds, this sizzling hot world emits the gases from its surface.
ScienceDaily said the temperature of the exoplanet's upper atmosphere is 10 times greater than any other known planetary atmosphere. The WASP-121 system resides about 900 light-years from Earth. "So you don't know if they are escaping or not". Not only that, its temperatures are so extreme that heavy metal gases are escaping into space from the exoplanet's atmosphere - a phenomenon never seen before until now.
Scientists say that the metals will make the atmosphere more opaque in the ultraviolet and contribute to the heating of the upper atmosphere. These weird atmospheres mostly contain lighter-weight gases hydrogen and helium and they break apart as the planet moves in close proximity to its star. The intense gravity of the star it orbits is also deforming WASP-121b into the shape of a football. "We look forward to learning even more about this unusual planet". This helped them study how heavy metals escaped the exoplanet. "It's so hot and so favourable to observe, it's the best shot at finding the presence of heavy metals", noted Sing in a Hubble press release.
This artist's illustration shows an alien world that is losing magnesium and iron gas from its atmosphere. The planet and its escaping gases are too far away to see directly, even at their scorching temperatures. This first-of-its-kind discovery reveals a new category of ultrahot exoplanet, one so thoroughly cooked that your cast-iron skillet would bubble, turn to gas and boil out of the atmosphere.
The WASP-121b study is part of the Panchromatic Comparative Exoplanet Treasury (PanCET) survey, a Hubble program to look at 20 exoplanets, ranging in size from several to more than 100 times Earth's mass.
The observations of WASP-121b add to the developing story of how planets lose their primordial atmospheres. When planets develop, they collect an atmosphere that contains gas from the disk in which the planet and the star were made. Hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements throughout the universe, so they're common building blocks for the young planet atmospheres. They watched the planet during transits, when the planet passes in front of its star as viewed from Earth. Given the extreme conditions on WASP-121b, the scientists were trying to see if the escaping of heavy metal gases was indeed possible.
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