Astronomers at the Center for Astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian have discovered the first Jupiter-like planet without clouds or fog in its observable atmosphere. The findings were published this month in Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Named WASP-62b, the gas giant was first discovered in 201
“For my thesis, I’m working on the characterization of exoplanets,” said Munatza Alam, a student at the Center for Astrophysics who led the study. “I take discovered planets and trace them to characterize their atmosphere.”
Known as “hot Jupiter”, WASP-62b is 575 light-years away and is about half the mass of Jupiter in our solar system. However, unlike our Jupiter, which takes nearly 12 years to orbit the sun, WASP-62b revolves around its star in just four and a half days. This proximity to the star makes it extremely hot, hence the name “hot Jupiter”.
Using the Hubble Space Telescope, Alam recorded data and observations of the planet, using spectroscopy, a study of electromagnetic radiation to help detect chemical elements. Alam specifically observed WASP-62b as it soared three times in front of its receiving star, making visible light observations that could detect the presence of sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere.
“I will admit that at first I was not very excited about this planet,” says Alam. “But after I started looking at the data, I got excited.”
Although there is no evidence of potassium, the presence of sodium is strikingly clear. The team was able to see the complete sodium absorption lines in their data or his full fingerprint. Clouds or fog in the atmosphere would hide the full signature of sodium, Alam explains, and astronomers can usually make out only small hints of its presence.
“It’s proof of smoking that we see a clear atmosphere,” she said.
Cloudless planets are extremely rare; astronomers estimate that less than 7 percent of exoplanets have a clean atmosphere, according to recent research. For example, the first and only other known exoplanet with a clean atmosphere was discovered in 2018. Named WASP-96b, it is classified as a hot Saturn.
Astronomers believe that studying exoplanets with a cloudless atmosphere could lead to a better understanding of how they formed. Their rarity “suggests something else is happening or they formed differently from most planets,” Alam said. Clear atmospheres also make it easier to study the chemical composition of the planets, which can help identify what the planet is made of.
With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope later this year, the team hopes to have new opportunities to learn and better understand WASP-62b. The telescope’s improved technologies, such as higher resolution and better precision, should help them explore the atmosphere even more closely to look for more elements, such as silicon.
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Munazza K. Alam et al, Evidence of a clear atmosphere for WASP-62b: The only known gas transit giant in the JWST continuous observation area, The Astrophysical Journal (2021). DOI: 10.3847 / 2041-8213 / abd18e
Provided by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Quote: Astronomers discover the first cloudless planet similar to Jupiter (2021, January 22), extracted on January 22, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-01-astronomers-cloudless-jupiter-like-planet .html
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