Ultrahot Jupiters Have Star-like Atmospheres, Study Finds

Posted: Aug 12 2018, 4:26am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 12 2018, 4:28am CDT, in Latest Science News


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Ultrahot Jupiters have Star-like Atmospheres, Study Finds
These simulated views of the ultrahot Jupiter WASP-121b. Credit:Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Vivien Parmentier/Aix-Marseille University

Researchers are able to discover why ultrahot Jupiters seem to have less water than expected

Among thousands of planets outside our solar system, ultrahot Jupiters emerged as a separate, distinct class. These exoplanets have characteristics similar to those of Jupiter but orbit very close to their stars, making their surface extremely hot.

Previous studies have found that these exotic worlds seem to have less water than expected. This is puzzling, because water vapor is abundant in similar but slightly cooler planets such as hot Jupiters, cousins to ultrahot Jupiters.

A new study answers the long-standing mystery about why water is missing from the atmospheres of ultrahot Jupiters. It suggests that these hot, gaseous planets do have ingredients for water. But due to strong irradiation on the planet's daysides, their water molecules are completely torn apart. Hot Jupiters are tidally locked, meaning one side of the planet permanently faces the star while the other remains in permanent darkness.

"The daysides of these worlds are furnaces that look more like a stellar atmosphere than a planetary atmosphere," said lead author Vivien Parmentier, an astrophysicist at Aix Marseille University in France. "In this way, ultrahot Jupiters stretch out what we think planets should look like."

In recent years, astronomers have used Hubble and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope to study the atmospheres of hot, Jupiter-sized exoplanets. Multiple observations from both Hubble and Spitzer showed that daysides of ultrahot Jupiters are blistering hot with temperatures as high as 5,400 degrees Fahrenheit. While telescopes can gather some information about the daysides of ultrahot Jupiters, their nightsides are difficult to probe with current technology.

A new study proposes model for what might be happening on both sides of these planets. Based largely on observations and analysis of four ultrahot Jupiters, researchers suggest that fierce winds may blow the water molecules into the nightside of these planets. On the cooler, dark side of the planet, molecules condense into clouds before drifting back into the dayside to be ripped apart again.

"With these studies, we are bringing some of the century-old knowledge gained from studying the astrophysics of stars, to the new field of investigating exoplanetary atmospheres," said Parmentier. "We now know that ultrahot Jupiters exhibit chemical behavior that is different and more complex than their cooler cousins, the hot Jupiters."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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