December 5, 2022
The heaviest element so far discovered in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

The heaviest element so far discovered in the atmosphere of an exoplanet


Technology Innovation Website Editor – 10/13/2022

Artist’s view of the night side of the exoplanet WASP-76b.
[Imagem: ESO/M. Kornmesser]

floating brio

“We weren’t looking for pride, and I don’t think anyone was looking for pride, because there’s no reason to be proud of being there. This was, in a way, an accidental discovery.”

This is how astronomer Tom Silva of the University of Porto in Portugal described the discovery of brio, the chemical element with atomic number 56 and symbol Ba, in the atmospheres of two exoplanets, WASP-76b, where iron rainsand WASP-121b are equally hot.

Toms was using the VLT telescope in Chile to observe the super-hot gas giants when he found Brio, making this the discovery of the heaviest element ever found in the atmosphere of an exoplanet.

WASP-76b and WASP-121b are not common exoplanets: both are known as super-hot Jupiters, comparable in size to Jupiter, despite their very high surface temperatures, above 1,000 degrees Celsius. to their stars, and complete an orbit around them in just a day or two.

However, scientists were surprised to find brio, which is two and a half times heavier than iron, in the upper atmospheres of both exoplanets. “Given the high gravity of the planets, we would expect heavy elements like Brio to fall rapidly into the lower atmosphere,” said one of the team, Olivier Demangon.

unknown mechanism

The fact that two extremely hot exoplanets were discovered in the atmosphere by Brio suggests that this type of planet may be even stranger than astronomers thought.

Although we sometimes see Brio here in Earth’s sky, but like the brilliant green of fireworks, the question for scientists is to imagine what natural process could cause this heavy element at high altitudes on those exoplanets.

“At the moment, we’re not sure about the mechanisms,” Dimangon admitted.


Article: Detection of barium in the atmospheres of superheated gas giants WASP-76b and WASP-121b
Authors: T. Azevedo Silva, ODS Demangeon, N. C. Santos, R. Allart, F. Borsa, E. Cristo, E. Esparza-Borges, J. V. Seidel, E. Palle, S. G. Sousa, H. M. Tabernero, M. R. Zapatero Osorio, S. Christiani, F. Pepe, R.; Gonzalez Hernandez, C. Lovis, Cigap Martins, A. Miner, J. Mesella, B. Molaro, D.
Journal: Astronomy and Astrophysics
Volume: 666, L10
DOI: 10.1051 / 0004-6361 / 202244489

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