This sizzling exoplanet is turning into a football

Pablo Tucker
August 2, 2019

They're as big or bigger than our planet Jupiter, made of mostly gassy hydrogen and helium, and orbit shockingly close to their stars. But new insights about the planet are leaving astronomers scratching their heads. Therefore, unlike other hot Jupiters that are still cool enough to condense iron and magnesium into clouds, this sizzling hot world emits the gases from its surface. "This presents an opportunity to observe and understand some very interesting physics".

In fact, WASP-121b's upper atmosphere is around 10 times hotter than that of any other known planet, scientists say.

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This article was originally published by Futurism. The observations represent the first time that so-called "heavy metals"-elements heavier than hydrogen and helium-have been spotted escaping from a hot Jupiter, a large, gaseous exoplanet very close to its star. It's a very efficient mechanism for mass loss". The powerful gravitational forces have altered the planet's shape so that it appears more football shaped.The WASP-121 system is about 900 light-years from Earth. The heavy metals are escaping partly because the planet is so big and puffy that its gravity is relatively weak. "With WASP-121b, we see magnesium and iron gas so far away from the planet that they're not gravitationally bound", said lead researcher David Sing of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The researchers detected the spectra of magnesium and iron in near-ultraviolet as the exoplanet passed in front of its host star from our perspective here on Earth, an observing technique known as the transit method.

Aside from the increase in temperature and the leak in the atmosphere, the host star has another effect on the planet that's more apparent.

WASP-121b is so hot that the planet has puffed up beyond its ability to hold onto its own atmosphere, and is instead streaming it away as it flies around its star every 30 hours.


Planets are made from disks of dust and gas that initially formed the star they orbit.

According to the researchers, WASP-121b will be a flawless target for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2021. The combination of Hubble and Webb observations would give astronomers a more complete inventory of the chemical elements that make up the planet's atmosphere. As the planet moves closer to its star, much of this early atmosphere burns off and escapes to space. "Ones that are this hot are even rarer still", Deming added.

Hubble is a joint NASA and European Space Agency project.


This press release was adapted from text provided by the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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