Exoplanet WASP-96b does not have clouds like others

May 10, 2018 - By Darrin Black

Exoplanet WASP-96b does not have clouds like others

Exoplanet WASP-96b does not have clouds like others

This exoplanet is also called as hot Saturn. And it does not have clouds in its atmosphere. Doctor Nikolay Nikolov and his team from Exeter University claim that they make an outstanding discovery, as it is the first exoplanet without clouds.

Scientists found out it with the help of Europe’s Very Large Telescope of 8.2 m, located in Chile. They were able to study it when exoplanet was passing afore the star.

WASP-96b is very similar to Saturn by its mass, it is also a gas giant. It is bigger than the largest planet in the solar system Jupiter by 20 percent. It is 980 light years away from us. It transports star in constellation Phoenix, near Fomalhaut or Piscis Austrini and Achernar or Eridani.

Sodium

Sodium

With the help of Large Telescope, scientists studied the atmosphere and saw that there are no clouds. They checked atmosphere for sodium.

Why sodium?

Sodium is one of the most common elements that exist in Universe. Compounds of sodium on Earth make our food better. People can create light with its help. We use it every day and don’t even notice it.

Researchers call sodium the seventh most widespread element in our universe. Our planet’s crust contains 2.6 percent of sodium.

However, scientists paid attention to this element when it helped them to find unique cloudless exoplanet. So, why other does not have as much sodium or no sodium at all? “Until now, sodium was revealed either as a very narrow peak or found to be completely missing. This is because the characteristic ‘tent-shaped’ profile can only be produced deep in the atmosphere of the planet and for most planet clouds appear to get in the way,” explains Nikolov.

The whole study was published in Nature magazine on the 7th of May, 2018.

According to Doctor Nikolov:  “We’ve been looking at more than twenty exoplanet transit spectra. WASP-96b is the only exoplanet that appears to be entirely cloud-free and shows such a clear sodium signature, making the planet a benchmark for characterization”.

An environment without clouds allowed scientists to measure how much sodium in this planet’s atmosphere. It appeared, that planets in our own solar system have similar number of sodium. Scientists believe this discovery will help to find out the formula of clouds on other gas giant exoplanets.

An atmosphere of WASP-96b is unique and can help researchers with further space studies. It can teach more about exoplanet and help to find out how much CO2, CO, H2O and other molecules are in exoplanet’s composition.

What do researchers tell us?

Co-author of research from the University of Dublin City, Ernst de Mooji, says: “WASP-96b will also provide us with a unique opportunity to determine the abundances of other molecules, such as water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide with future observations”.

Another co-author from the University of California, at Other Worlds Laboratory, Professor Jonathan J Fortney claims that: “It is difficult to predict which of these hot atmospheres will have thick clouds.  By seeing the full range of possible atmospheres, from very cloudy to nearly cloud-free like WASP-96b, we’ll gain a better understanding of what these clouds are made of”.

Earlier, with the help of the same telescope, the team of astronomers of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) discovered that the red dwarf Ross 128 has an exoplanet the size of the Earth, the temperature on which can resemble the terrestrial. It is only 11 light years from the solar system.

Future plans

Researchers confirm that they are going to use James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble, and other powerful telescopes to continue their studies.

Main source https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_656897_en.html

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