Data shows gravitationally locked exoplanet with extreme temperature variations between day and night
Space news (October 25, 2014) –
NASA planetary space scientists using data provided by the Hubble Space Telescope recently released the first detailed global map of atmosphere temperatures and water vapor distributions on a “hot Jupiter” class exoplanet. Initially detected in 2011, WASP-43b as this exoplanet is called, is the world where daytime temperatures reach 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and then plunge to below 1,000 degrees at night.
“These measurements have opened the door for new kinds of ways to compare the properties of different types of planets,” said team leader Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago.
“Our observations are the first of their kind in terms of providing a two-dimensional map on the longitude and altitude of the planet’s thermal structure that can be used to constrain atmospheric circulation and dynamical models for hot exoplanets,” said team member Kevin Stevenson of the University of Chicago.
Planetary space scientists were able to detect three complete orbits of WASP-43b, during a four-day period. They were able to successfully combine spectroscopy and study of the rotation of the exoplanet to create the first detailed global map of atmosphere temperatures and water vapor distributions on a “hot Jupiter” class exoplanet.
WASP-43b is 260 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Sextans, which is too distant to be imaged directly by instruments. Planetary space scientists were first able to detect this “hot Jupiter” class exoplanet by observing the lessening of the sunlight as it passed in front of its parent star.
Approximately the same volume as Jupiter, WASP-43b is approximately twice as dense and is so close to its parent star it completes an orbit in just 19 hours. This exoplanet is also gravitationally locked, which means one side is perpetually in the dark, while the other side is constantly bombarded by sunlight.
There are no planets in our solar system exhibiting the extreme environments existing on WASP-43b. This makes it a unique laboratory for the study of the formation and evolution of “hot Jupiter” class exoplanets and planets in general.
“The planet is so hot that all the water in its atmosphere is vaporized, rather than condensed into icy clouds like on Jupiter,” said team member Laura Kreidberg of the University of Chicago.
“The amount of water in the giant planets of our solar system is poorly known because water that has precipitated out of the upper atmospheres of cool gas giant planets like Jupiter is locked away as ice. But so-called “hot Jupiters,” gas giants that have high surface temperatures because they orbit very close to their stars, water is a vapor that can be readily traced.”
“Water is thought to play an important role in the formation of giant planets, since comet-like bodies bombard young planets, delivering most of the water and other molecules that we can observe,” said Jonathan Fortney, a member of the team from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Next for scientists?
Planetary space scientists will now try to figure out how abundant different elements are in the composition of WASP-43b, and similar exoplanets, in order to help understand how they’re formed. The team also plans to collect data on the abundance of water on different classes of exoplanets in the future.
You can read more about NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the hunt for exoplanets here.
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