Scientists from the University of Bern and the University of Geneva have been conducting atmospheric research on an incredibly hot exoplanet called WASP-121b. During the study, they discovered several gaseous metals suspended in the planet’s atmosphere. The planet is scorching with temperatures around 2500 to 3000 degrees Celsius.
The reason the planet is so hot is because it’s extremely close to its host star, about 40 times closer than the Earth to the Sun. The planet is close enough to its host star that it orbits in only two days. Researchers collected the data using high-resolution HARPS spectrograph. They were able to show a total of at least seven gaseous metals occur in the atmosphere of the planet.
One of the most surprising factors was that the planet’s atmosphere is unexpectedly complex. Astronomers previously assumed that ultra-hot planets have simple atmospheres because few complex chemical compounds can form under such high temperatures. Scientists believe that molecules containing a relatively rare metal called vanadium are the main cause of the complex atmosphere of WASP-121b.
The complex atmosphere only makes sense if titanium, a more common metal, is missing in the atmosphere. In addition to vanadium, six other metals were discovered in the atmosphere, including iron, chromium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, and nickel. All the metals evaporated from the extremely high temperatures on the planet.
Results like those obtained in this study can be used to allow researchers to make conclusions about chemical processes on distant planets. As more sensitive telescopes and spectrographs are available in the future, scientists will use the same techniques to study cooler worlds that are more Earth-like. Scientists have moved from merely cataloging what’s out there to taking measurements of planets from a vast distance using this technique.