Hubble detects the first stratosphere of an exoplanet

An international team, led by the University of Exeter and in which the Center for Astrobiology (CSIC-INTA) participates, has found unequivocal evidence of a stratosphere on a giant planet outside of our Solar System, with an atmosphere so hot as to melt iron.

The discovery has been made thanks to the use of the telescope NASA's Hubble spacecraft, which has been able to detect the intense emission of water vapor from the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-121b. Located some 900 light years from Earth, WASP-121b is a giant gas exoplanet commonly known as Jupiter. The exoplanet orbits its host star every 1.3 days and is approximately at the minimum distance it could be before the gravity of the star began to "break" it. Being so close to the star, the upper layers of the atmosphere reach 2500 Kelvin (about 2230 ° C), a temperature at which the iron would not be in solid but gaseous.
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Scientists used spectroscopy to analyze the brightness of the planet at different wavelengths of light. In particular, it has been observed that water molecules in the atmosphere of WASP-121b emit radiation in the form of infrared light. The observation of the emission from water vapor is the unequivocal proof of the presence of a stratosphere.

In the planets of the Solar System, the typical temperature variation within the stratosphere is less than 100 degrees. However, in WASP-121b, the temperature in the stratosphere rises more than 1000 degrees. To unravel this mysterious temperature increase, new observations will be necessary at other wavelengths, such as ultraviolet and X-rays.


Figure: artistic image of WASP-121b. The "domed" shape is due to the intense tidal forces exerted by the star. © Engine House FX, At Bristol Science Center, University of Exeter.

 

Fuente: UCC-CAB

 

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