Wednesday, February 21

They discover strange similarity between the atmosphere of the Earth and that of an extreme exoplanet

An international team of researchers has analyzed in great detail the atmosphere of one of the known planets with the most extreme climates and have detected the first evidence of an “alien world” with a layered atmosphere like Earth’s, although with very different characteristics, According to a new study published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

The results of this uninhabitable planet, called WASP-189b, similar to Jupiter, which was first characterized with the help of the CHEOPS space telescope, can help astronomers understand the complexities of many other exoplanets, including Earth-like planets.

And it is the first time that scientists have been able to probe different atmospheric layers on an exoplanet, each with its own chemical compositions and characteristics.

“In the past, astronomers used to assume that exoplanet atmospheres existed as a uniform layer and tried to understand it as such,” said astronomer Jens Hoeijmakers, from Lund University (Sweden), and co-author of the new research, in a statement published by the University of Bern (Switzerland), where some of the scientists reside.

“But our results show that even the atmospheres of intensely irradiated gas giant planets have complex three-dimensional structures,” he added.

Earth’s complex atmosphere

Earth’s atmosphere is not a uniform envelope, but is made up of different layers with characteristic properties, as explained by the same scientists in the statement. For example, the troposphere contains most of the water vapor and is therefore the layer in which most weather events occur. The layer that is above, the stratosphere, is the one that contains the famous ozone layer that protects us from the harmful ultraviolet radiation of the Sun.

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To find the different layers of the extreme exoplanet, the research based its analysis on the light from the planet’s star, WASP-189, as the world passes in front of it. “We measured the light coming from the planet’s host star and passing through the planet’s atmosphere,” explained astronomer Bibiana Prinoth of Lund University, who led the research.

“The gases in its atmosphere absorb part of the star’s light, similar to how ozone absorbs part of the sunlight in the Earth’s atmosphere, thus leaving its characteristic ‘fingerprint’. With the help of HARPS [Buscador de Planetas de Velocidad Radial de Alta Precisión a bordo del Observatorio La Silla de ESO en Chile] we were able to identify the corresponding substances,” he added.

As is often the case for hot Jupiters like WASP-189b, those gases included heavy metal vapors. In the atmosphere of the exoplanet there are gaseous clouds of iron, titanium, chromium, magnesium, vanadium and manganese.

Although we humans don’t usually think of metals as gaseous, given WASP-189b’s temperatures, it’s not surprising. The planet’s star is especially hot, and the planet is so close that it only takes 2.7 Earth days to orbit it, according to previous research.

“Ozone layer” on a tremendously hot planet?

Apart from the gases found, the researchers interestingly also found traces of titanium oxide, which had never been conclusively detected in an exoplanet atmosphere before. According to the researchers, titanium oxide, although very rare on Earth, could play an important role in WASP-189b’s atmosphere. similar to that of ozone in the earth’s atmosphere.

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“Titanium oxide absorbs short-wave radiation, such as ultraviolet,” explained study co-author astrophysicist Kevin Heng, professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern and NCCR PlanetS member. “Its detection could therefore indicate a layer in WASP-189b’s atmosphere that interacts with stellar irradiation in a similar way to the ozone layer on Earth,” he added.

Evidence of different layers in the atmosphere

Indeed, in their analysis, the researchers found slightly different effects between the different chemicals, suggesting that they moved differently through the atmosphere and therefore had a complex structure.

“In our analysis, we saw that the ‘fingerprints’ of the different gases were slightly altered compared to our expectation. We believe that strong winds and other processes could generate these disturbances. And since the fingerprints of the different gases were altered differently, we think this indicates that they exist in different layers; similar to how water vapor and ozone fingerprints on Earth would appear altered differently from a distance, because they occur mainly in different atmospheric layers,” explained Prinoth.

These results may change the way astronomers investigate exoplanets.

“We are convinced that in order to fully understand this and other types of planets – including those most similar to Earth – we need to appreciate the three-dimensional nature of their atmospheres,” Heng continued.

As researchers gain insight from the available data, many are already looking forward to what they will be able to understand from data from the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope, which, by the way, is equipped to do this kind of atmospheric research work as well.

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With information from DW.

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