(ORDO NEWS) — There are some really strange worlds out there in the wider universe that make the planets we have here in our solar system seem almost mundane by comparison.
Super-Mercury and mini-Neptunes , for example, defy expectations for planetary development. And then there are the hot Jupiters ; and, in addition, superhot Jupiters, worlds so close to their stars that their atmospheres are thick with clouds of heavy elements vaporized by intense heat.
Now briefly. two of the most complex worlds ever seen in the Milky Way, astronomers have discovered the heaviest metal.
In the atmospheres of the exoplanets WASP-76b and WASP-121b, clouds of barium, the 56th element in the periodic table, drift.
Previous searches have found WASP-76b and vanadium oxide calcium, titanium oxide, and vanadium oxide in the atmosphere.
76b, as well as vanadium, iron, chromium, calcium, sodium, magnesium and nickel in a WASP-121b atmosphere.
This iron could even be thrown into the twilight horizon in the rain, under which no one would like to sing. But barium, floating in the air at high altitudes, takes all this mess to another level.
“The puzzling and illogical part: why is such a heavy element in the upper atmospheres of these planets?” says astronomer Tomás Azevedo Silva of the University of Porto and the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences (IA) in Portugal.
“We didn’t expect or specifically look for barium, and we had to double-check that it was actually coming from the planet, as it had never been seen before on any exoplanet.”
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 light from transits with light normally emitted by a star, scientists can isolate spectral fingerprints of an exoplanet’s chemical composition and trace them back to the materials known to produce those fingerprints.
It’s not easy, but painstaking but rewarding work – it can help us better understand the diversity and evolution of exoplanets in the wider galaxy. Especially ultra-hot Jupiters.
These enigmatic gas giants are incredibly close to their stars, too close for them to form there, as the star’s gravity, radiation, and strong stellar wind would have kept the gas from sticking together.
Drawing what these worlds are made of and what their future looks like can help astronomers piece together how they came into being in the first place.
WASP-76b and WASP-121b are very close to their stars, with an orbital period 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 detection of barium rather unusual.
“Given the high gravity of the planets, we would expect heavy elements such as barium to quickly enter the lower atmosphere,” says astronomer Olivier Demangeon, also from the University of Porto and IA. “At the moment, we are not sure what the mechanisms are [for his presence].”
Answers to this confusing question will require more analysis, but the team’s work on two exoplanets has also given us more information to chew on.
They made new detections of cobalt, strontium, and possibly titanium in WASP-121b’s atmosphere and confirmed the presence of previously discovered elements.
In addition, they were able to confirm features of WASP-121b that indicate that its atmosphere is leaking — the exoplanet is being vaporized by its star.
This is further evidence that hot Jupiters live for a limited time, unable to survive for long periods of time so close to the star.
In addition, some elements are highly ionized, which will leave planetary astronomers chewing a lot. .
“The presence of these heavy ionized particles at high altitudes in the atmospheres of superhot Jupiters may be indicative of unexpected atmospheric dynamics,” the researchers write in their paper.
“Describing the mechanisms that could explain the presence of these species in the upper atmosphere is beyond the scope of this article. However, we hope that this discovery will encourage us to further model the atmosphere.”
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