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06-2022

This Alien World Is So Extreme, It Has Literally Clouds of Evaporated Rock

An exoplanet about 1,360 light-years away is so close to its star, it has vaporized rock in its clouds.

Called WASP-178b, it orbits WASP-178, a young, white star with twice the mass of the Sun, in a rather short orbit of just 3.3 days. At that close, temperatures on the gaseous world are rising – so hot that it is classified as an ‘ultra-hot Jupiter’, possibly the most extreme type of exoplanet we know.

A new study of weather on this wild world has, for the first time, identified silicon monoxide (SiO) in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, giving us new insights into these truly alien worlds.

“We still don’t have a good understanding of the weather in different planetary environments,” said astrophysicist David Sing of Johns Hopkins University.

“When you look at Earth, all of our weather predictions are still finely tuned that we can measure. But when you go to a distant exoplanet, you have limited predictive powers because You haven’t built up a general theory about how everything in the atmosphere goes together and responds to extreme situations.”

Hot Jupiters in particular are absolutely fascinating and ripe for study. As the name suggests, these worlds are gas giants like Jupiter, but they are also very hot, as they are in extremely close orbits with their stars – some spin in less than a day.

They say something of an interesting conundrum: They may not have formed in their current orbit, because gravity, radiation, and intense stellar winds should have prevented the gas from clumping together. However, more than 300 hot Jupiters have been detected so far; Astronomers believe that they form away from their stars, and migrate inward.

WASP-178b is about 1.4 times the mass of Jupiter and about 1.9 times its size. Bloated by the heat of its star, the exoplanet reaches temperatures of 2,450 Kelvin (2,177 °C, or 3,950 °F). That temperature is the sweetest place to detect vaporized silicate: theoretical studies have shown that above 2,000 Kelvin, silicon monoxide is expected to be detectable.

This way. The exoplanet passes between us and its host star. With each transit, some of the light from the star is absorbed by atoms in the exoplanet’s atmosphere; Each element absorbs or emits at a different wavelength, which means it can be detected as a signal in the spectrum of light received from the star.

The signal is exactly minute, as you might imagine, but by stacking the transits, astronomers can amplify the spectrum to get a readable signal. Using this method, vaporized metals such as titanium, iron and magnesium have been detected in the atmosphere of hot Jupiter.

A team of researchers led by Utah Valley University’s Sing and his colleague Josh Lothringer used the Hubble Space Telescope to obtain the spectrum of WASP-178b, and found a signal unlike anything ever seen before. According to their analysis, it turned out to be silicon and magnesium.

“SiO in particular has not, to our knowledge, been detected before in exoplanets,” they wrote in their paper, “but the presence of SiO in WASP-178b as the major Si-bearing species is consistent with theoretical expectations.” is the temperature.”

WASP-178b, as all known hot Jupiters, is tidal-locked to its star. This means that one side is permanently facing the star, permanent in the day, and the other permanent facing away at night. This produces a significant difference in temperature between the two hemispheres of the exoplanet, which has a rotating atmosphere that rotates between the two.

The night side of the exoplanet may be cold enough for the vapor to condense into clouds, which then rain deep into the atmosphere, before being blown back to where the minerals vaporize once more.

The researchers could see no sign of this condensation at the terminator of WASP-178b, the line that separates day from night. But the results suggest that silicon monoxide may be present on other exoplanets for which detailed terminator observations are more visible, namely WASP-76b. If rain of rocks exists on an exoplanet, this could be the place to find it.

The team’s results also show that we are getting better at peering into the mysterious environments of distant worlds. This is good for looking at exoplanets that are smaller, and more distant from their stars.

“If we can’t figure out what’s happening on super-hot Jupiters, where we have reliable solid observational data, we won’t have a chance to figure out what’s happening in the weak spectra from looking at terrestrial exoplanets.” is,” Lothringer said.

“This is a test of our techniques that allows us to build a general understanding of physical properties such as cloud formation and atmospheric composition.”

research has been published in Nature,

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