NASA Discovers An Exoplanet So Hostile That It Could Not Be Real

Posted: Dec 3 2017, 7:50am CST | by , Updated: Dec 9 2017, 11:24am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
NASA Discovers an Exoplanet So Hostile That It Could Not be Real
Credit: NASA

Researhces have found evidence that "hot Jupiter" WASP-18b is wrapped in a smothering stratosphere loaded with carbon monoxide

WASP-18b is a giant exoplanet located about 330 light years from Earth. It is around 10 times more massive than Jupiter and orbits very close to its host star. The exoplanet was first spotted in 2009 and continues to be a source of fascination.

Recently, researchers have found evidence that this “hot Jupiter” is surrounded by smothering layer of carbon monoxide. Moreover, it is almost completely devoid of water and has extremely high temperatures. The composition of exoplanet appears totally different from that of Jupiter and other gas giants in planetary systems and researchers suggest that it may not have formed the way other gas giants did. The discovery calls into question the prevailing theories about the event that shaped hot Jupiters.

“The composition of WASP-18b defies all expectations," said lead researcher Kyle Sheppard of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. "We don't know of any other extrasolar planet where carbon monoxide so completely dominates the upper atmosphere."

Exoplanets display subtle fingerprints in infrared light wavelengths that help determine their atmosphere. When researchers analyzed WASP-18b's peculiar fingerprint, they found it doesn’t resemble any exoplanet examined so far.

“The only consistent explanation for the data is an overabundance of carbon monoxide and very little water vapor in the atmosphere of WASP-18b, in addition to the presence of a stratosphere," said Nikku Madhusudhan a co-author of the study from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. "This rare combination of factors opens a new window into our understanding of physical and chemical processes in exoplanetary atmospheres."

Results also indicate that WASP-18b has hot carbon monoxide in the stratosphere and cooler carbon monoxide in the layer of the atmosphere below, called the troposphere. This is the first time researchers have detected both types of fingerprints in an exoplanet's atmosphere.

Observing hot Jupiters like WASP-18b could help astronomers to understand how they form. Their detailed analysis could offer crucial insights on physical processes responsible for generating such planets.

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