Scientists from the University of Bern and the University of Geneva have been studying the atmosphere of an astonishingly hot exoplanet, WASP-121b. During the study, they found several gaseous metals suspended in the planet’s atmosphere. The planet’s temperature is between 2,500 and 3,000 degrees Celsius, and it’s very hot. The planet is so hot because it is so close to its host star and about 40 times closer to the sun than Earth.
The planet is so close enough to the host star that it can orbit it for a week in just two days. The researchers used high-resolution HARPS spectrometers to collect data showing that at least seven gaseous metals existed in the planet’s atmosphere.
One of the most surprising factors is the unexpected complexity of the planet’s atmosphere. Astronomers had previously thought that the atmosphere of an ultra-hot planet was simple because few complex chemicals could form at such high temperatures. Scientists believe that molecules containing a relatively rare metal called vanadium are the main cause of was the complex atmosphere of WASP-121b.
Complex atmospheres make sense only when titanium, a more common metal, is missing from the atmosphere, and in addition to palladium, six other metals have been found in the atmosphere, including iron, chromium, calcium, sodium, magnesium and nickel. All the metals evaporate from the very high temperatures on earth.
Results from the study could allow researchers to draw conclusions about chemical processes on distant planets. With the admission of more sensitive telescopes and spectrometers in the future, scientists will use the same techniques to study a cryogenic world more like Earth. Scientists have gone from simply cataloging to using this technique to measure planets from distant distances.