NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has detected possible signs of a weather system on an extremely hot exoplanet the size of Jupiter, with surface temperatures of 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit.
Researchers from the Dutch SRON Institute for Space Research and the University of Groningen examined images of the WASP-31b taken by the famous telescope.
One side of WASP-31b is always facing the Sun-sized host star.
Experts found evidence of chromium hydride in this region – at temperatures and pressures that could allow it to switch between liquid and gas – forming a weather system during rain on the night side and as gas in the day.
The team says this is an important finding, because the weather system is a key feature that astronomers look for when finding a suitable planet for life – and finding a planet in such an inhospitable world could make the process easier on “the most likely planets for life.”
WASP-31b is a “puffy world” about 1.5 times the size of Jupiter, but about half its mass, and orbits its dwarf star every 3.4 days.
“Hot Jupiter planets, including WASP-31b, always have the same side against the host star,” says Michael Main, co-presenter and head of the exoplanet program at SRON.
So we would expect a diurnal side with chromium hydride in gaseous form, and a night side with liquid chromium hydride.
According to theoretical models, a large temperature difference results in strong winds. We want to confirm this with our observations.
Exoplanets are currently very far from the arrival of human-made mechanisms, but telescopes and equipment on Earth can provide a glimpse of their atmosphere.
Atmospheric fingerprints and traces – including those of some chemicals and the temperatures they’re in – can be used to define things like weather systems.
These fingerprints allow astronomers to deduce materials in an exoplanet’s atmosphere – and one day they use them to find evidence of alien life.
Dutch researchers said that one of the signs indicating the possibility of life is finding evidence of a ritual system on a planet.
While WASP-31b is likely too hot for life to evolve, finding evidence of a ritual system within the atmosphere helps astronomers learn more about how potential weather systems formed in strange and unusual worlds.
Finding chromium hydride at the boundary between liquid and gas is similar to clouds and rain – at least in the case of water on Earth.
Lead author Marek Bramm and colleagues found evidence in Hubble data for chromium (CrH) in the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-31b.
“We must add that we only found chromium hydride using the Hubble Space Telescope,” Bram said, adding that they had not seen it in ground-based telescopes, including the very large European Southern Observatory Telescope in Chile.
They will not be able to confirm whether chromium is really evidence of a weather system on the planet, until Hubble’s successor – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is launched later this year.
The Dutch team hopes to use it to investigate WASP-31b, and other hot Jupiter-type planets, to confirm whether the weather system will work.
“With JWST, we are looking for chromium hydride on ten planets with different temperatures, to better understand how the weather systems of those planets depend on the temperature,” says co-author Flores van der Tak.
The results are published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Source: Daily Mail