Hubble uncovers a heavy metal exoplanet shaped like a football

It was a surprise.


In what manner can a planet be “hotter than hot?” The appropriate response is when heavy metals are recognized as getting away from the planet’s atmosphere, rather than consolidating into mists.

Perceptions by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope uncover magnesium and iron gas spilling from the strange world outside our solar system known as WASP-121b. The perceptions suggest that alleged “heavy metals”— elements heavier than hydrogen and helium—have been spotted escaping from a hot Jupiter, a massive, gaseous exoplanet exceptionally near its star.

Typically, hot Jupiter-sized planets are as yet cool enough inside to condense heavier elements, for example, magnesium and iron into clouds.

In any case, that is not the situation with WASP-121b, which is orbiting dangerously near its star that its upper climate arrives at a blasting 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in WASP-121b’s upper climate is about multiple times more prominent than that of any known planetary atmosphere. The WASP-121 resides and lives around 900 light-years from Earth.

Lead researcher David Sing of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland said, “Heavy metals have been seen in other hot Jupiters before, but only in the lower atmosphere. So you don’t know if they are escaping or not. With WASP-121b, we see magnesium and iron gas so far away from the planet that they’re not gravitationally bound.”

“Ultraviolet light from the host star, which is brighter and hotter than the Sun, heats the upper atmosphere and helps lead to its escape. Also, escaping magnesium and iron gas may contribute to the temperature spike. These metals will make the atmosphere more opaque in the ultraviolet, which could be contributing to the heating of the upper atmosphere.”

“The sizzling planet is so close to its star that it is on the cusp of being ripped apart by the star’s gravity. This hugging distance means that the planet is football-shaped due to gravitational tidal forces.”

“We picked this planet because it is so extreme. We thought we had a chance of seeing heavier elements escaping. It’s so hot and so favorable to observe, it’s the best shot at finding the presence of heavy metals. We were mainly looking for magnesium, but there have been hints of iron in the atmospheres of other exoplanets. It was a surprise, though, to see it so clearly in the data and at such great altitudes so far away from the planet. The heavy metals are escaping partly because the planet is so big and puffy that its gravity is relatively weak. This is a planet being actively stripped of its atmosphere.”

The WASP-121b study is a part of the Panchromatic Comparative Exoplanet Treasury (PanCET) survey, a Hubble program to take a gander at 20 exoplanets, ranging in size from super-Earths’ (a few times Earth’s mass) to Jupiters’ (which are more than multiple times Earth’s mass), in the primary huge-scale ultraviolet, visible, and infrared near investigation of far off universes.

The observations of WASP-121b add to the developing story of how planets lose their primordial atmospheres. At the point when planets form, they accumulate an atmosphere containing gas from the disk in which the planet and star formed. These atmospheres comprise most of the primordial, lighter-weight gases hydrogen and helium, the most abundant elements in the universe. This atmosphere disseminates as a planet moves nearer to its star.

Sing said, “The hot Jupiters are mostly made of hydrogen, and Hubble is very sensitive to hydrogen, so we know these planets can lose the gas relatively easily. But in the case of WASP-121b, the hydrogen and helium gas is outflowing, almost like a river, and is dragging these metals with them. It’s a very efficient mechanism for mass loss.”

Journal Reference

  1. David K. Sing, Panayotis Lavvas, Gilda E. Ballester, Alain Lecavelier des Etangs, Mark S. Marley, Nikolay Nikolov, Lotfi Ben-Jaffel, Vincent Bourrier, Lars A. Buchhave, Drake L. Deming, David Ehrenreich, Thomas Mikal-Evans, Tiffany Kataria, Nikole K. Lewis, Mercedes López-Morales, Antonio García Muñoz, Gregory W. Henry, Jorge Sanz-Forcada, Jessica J. Spake, Hannah R. Wakeford, and (The PanCET collaboration); The Hubble Space Telescope PanCET Program: Exospheric Mg ii and Fe ii in the Near-ultraviolet Transmission Spectrum of WASP-121b Using Jitter Decorrelation. The Astronomical Journal, Volume 158, Number 2. DOI: 10.3847/1538-3881/ab2986
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