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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Heavy Atmosphere: Traces of Barium Detected in Exoplanet Atmosphere

Astronomers discover the heaviest element ever found in an exoplanet's atmosphere

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Aditya Saikrishna
Aditya Saikrishna
I am 21 years old and an avid Motorsports enthusiast.

UNITED STATES: Astronomers discovered an exoplanet atmosphere laden with the heaviest element known so far. Using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT), they were stunned at the presence of barium at high altitudes in the atmospheres of ultra-hot gas giants WASP-76b and WASP-121b.

These two are classified as exoplanets, which are planets that orbit stars outside our solar system. This profound discovery further puzzled the researchers about what these exotic atmospheres’ compositions could be like.

The Ph.D. student at the University of Porto and the Instituto de Astrofisica e Ciencias do Espaco in Portugal, who led the study, said: “The puzzling and counterintuitive part is: why is there such a heavy element in the upper layers of the atmosphere of these planets?”.

“This was in a way an accidental discovery. We were not expecting or looking for barium in particular and had to cross-check that this was actually coming from the planet since it had never been seen on any exoplanet before,” he further added.

WASP-76b and WASP-1212b are Jupiter-sized, super-hot exoplanets whose surface temperatures can go beyond 1000°C as they are close to their host stars. This close proximity to a star gives unique features to the exoplanets.

In one such feature, astronomers suspect that it rains iron in WASP-76b. Even so, the presence of barium in the exoplanet’s upper atmosphere was surprising given that barium is 2.5 times heavier than iron and the massive planets’ high gravity, which would normally cause heavy elements like barium to fall into the lower atmospheric layers.

The discovery sparks speculation that these exoplanets may be stranger than previously thought.The results hint that modern science has only scratched the surface of the mysterious nature of exoplanets.

The composition of an exoplanet’s atmosphere is determined by specialised equipment.

Also Read: Cosmic Bubble Wrap: NASA’S Hubble Telescope Clicks a Stunner


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