(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have discovered barium in the clouds of two hot Jupiters – WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b. Previously, such heavy elements could not be found in the atmospheres of exoplanets.
It is also surprising that barium was high above the surface of the planet. Scientists cannot yet say exactly where it came from.
Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO VLT), scientists have discovered the heaviest element ever found in the atmospheres of exoplanets, barium (atomic number 56).
It was present in the upper atmosphere of the superhot gas giants WASP-76 b (the constellation Pisces) and WASP-121 b (the constellation Puppis).
This unexpected discovery shows that planets of this type may be even more unique and unpredictable than scientists thought.
The gas giants WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b belong to the class of superhot Jupiters. They are comparable in size to Jupiter itself, but have extremely high surface temperatures in excess of a thousand degrees Celsius.
This is due to their close proximity to the stars – the period of their revolution takes only one to two days. This gives such planets rather exotic features; for example, scientists believe that WASP-76 b is raining iron.
However, for astronomers, the presence of barium in the upper layers of WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b was a surprising discovery.
It is two and a half times heavier than iron, and, given the high gravity of the planets, the researchers expected that heavy elements, if any, would be present only in the lower atmosphere.
The scientists were not engaged in a targeted search for barium, but simply studied the composition of the atmospheres of exoplanets using the ESPRESSO spectrograph installed on the ESO VLT in Chile.
The analysis revealed several elements, including barium. After that, the researchers double-checked their results many times, since no one had ever found barium on any exoplanet before.
The main open question remains what natural process could lead to the fact that this heavy element is in the high layers of the atmosphere of hot Jupiters.
Planets of this type are very convenient to study because their atmospheres extend farther than those of colder planets and are therefore easier to observe and study.
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