Unusual molecule found in exoplanet atmosphere

(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers from the Netherlands Space Research Institute SRON discovered signs of aluminum monoxide (AlO) in the spectrum of the exoplanet WASP-43b. This came as a surprise to researchers, since usually aluminum monoxide is located in the lower atmospheric layers and is not available for observation. These observations were just the second case in the history of science when astronomers registered this molecule in the atmosphere of an exoplanet.

In their work, scientists led by Katy Chubb of the SRON Institute observed the exoplanet WASP-43b, a planet the size of Jupiter, located in a narrow orbit around the parent star WASP-43, located at a distance of 284 light-years from Earth. Usually, AlO can be found in deep atmospheric layers that are invisible to the infrared instrument of the Hubble Space Telescope (Hubble) used by the researchers in this work. One of the possible logical explanations for these unusual finds is that powerful winds intensively mix the atmosphere of the planet.

“The presence of aluminum monoxide in those layers of the planet’s atmosphere that we can analyze is of great interest to us, as these are really unusual findings,” said Chubb. “It is not yet clear to us why this chemical compound was available for observation, since its existence is unlikely at temperatures and pressures of the atmospheric region under study. We believe that, most likely, aluminum monoxide was raised upward by ascending gas flows from the lower atmosphere.”

Future telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope and ARIEL – which researchers from the SRON Institute are participating in – will provide an opportunity to better understand the design of warm gas giants such as the planet WASP-43b. These tools will help to find out how widespread AlO is in the atmospheres of such planets, and these data, in turn, will provide new information on the dynamics and formation of planets of this class.

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