Astronomers have found an incredibly heavy metal in the clouds of two hot exoplanets

(ORDO NEWS) — These planets flew so close to the star that it began to literally evaporate them – and now metallic rains are falling in the atmosphere of these worlds.

In the vastness of the Universe, there are worlds, in comparison with which the planets of the solar system look trivial and boring.

For example, supermercuries and mini-Neptunes, which develop contrary to the logic of planetary “maturation”.

And then there are the hot and superhot Jupiters, so close to their stars that their atmospheres are made up of clouds of heavy elements vaporized by intense heat.

Astronomers recently discovered a very heavy metal in the atmosphere of two of the most eerie worlds in the Milky Way.

In the clouds of exoplanets WASP-76b and WASP-121b, clouds of barium, the 56th element of the periodic table, drift.

Previous searches have found calcium, titanium oxide, and vanadium oxide in WASP-76b, and vanadium, iron, chromium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, and nickel in WASP-121b.

But barium, floating in the air at high altitudes, takes this whole situation to a new level.

lead clouds

“The puzzling and counterintuitive part is this: Why is there such a heavy element in the upper atmospheres of these planets at all?” asked astronomer Thomas Azevedo Silva from the University of Porto and the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences (IA) in Portugal.

Determining the chemical composition of an exoplanet’s atmosphere is not an easy task. First, you need an exoplanet that passes between us and its host star in an event known as a transit.

It should then pass often enough to amplify the signal and collect enough data.

This planet also needs an atmosphere thick enough to allow the star’s light to be absorbed as it is filtered and re-emitted by the atoms and molecules within it.

This absorption changes the wavelength of light, changing the electromagnetic spectrum we see from the star.

By comparing the light from the transits with light normally emitted by the star, scientists can isolate the spectral fingerprints of the exoplanet’s chemistry and trace them back to the materials known to produce those fingerprints.

This is painstaking work, but extremely useful – it can help us better understand the diversity and evolution of exoplanets in the galaxy.

WASP-76b and WASP-121b are very close to their stars, with orbital periods of 1.8 and 1.27 Earth days, respectively.

In addition, they are both quite massive, their masses are 0.92 and 1.18 times that of Jupiter. This makes the discovery of barium a very peculiar factor.

Scientists were able to confirm the features of WASP-121b, indicating that its atmosphere is leaking – the exoplanet is literally evaporated by its star.

This is further evidence that hot Jupiters live for a limited time, unable to survive for a long time so close to their star.


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