Hubble Uncovers 'Heavy Metal' Exoplanet Shaped Like a Football

Super Hot Jupiter Exoplanet

Super Hot Jupiter Exoplanet

The study was published in The Astronomical Journal.

"Observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reveal magnesium and iron gas streaming from the odd world outside our solar system known as WASP-121b", ScienceDaily reported. But new insights about the planet are leaving astronomers scratching their heads. Hot Jupiter planets are generally cool enough inside to condense heavier elements like magnesium and iron into clouds, but WASP-121b is too hot for that.

The new observations, made by an worldwide team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, describe the first known instance of heavy metal gas streaming away from a "hot Jupiter", which is a nickname for large, gaseous exoplanets that orbit very close to their host stars.

Hot Jupiters - a class of giant gas planets that rotate very close to their star and the result heated to enormous temperatures. "So you don't know if they are escaping or not. It's a very efficient mechanism for mass loss".

WASP-121b is located about 900 light-years away from Earth, and orbits a star slightly larger and hotter than our sun. The heavy metals are escaping partly because the planet is so big and puffy that its gravity is relatively weak.

"The easiest way to understand it is like the ocean tides on Earth from the Moon", David Sing, the lead author of the new study and an astronomer at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told Gizmodo.

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Aside from the increase in temperature and the leak in the atmosphere, the host star has another effect on the planet that's more apparent. The unimaginable heat is so intense that it's led elements like magnesium and iron to be completely vaporized, streaming into space because the star blasts the planet with vast pressure.

Further research of the planet will happen once the James Webb Space Telescope, which is replacing the Hubble, is up and running after its scheduled launch in March 2021.

Planets are made from disks of dust and gas that initially formed the star they orbit. Hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements throughout the universe, so they're common building blocks for the young planet atmospheres. This gas creates the planet's early atmosphere as it's forming.

The observations surrounding WASP-121b helps with delving deeper into how planets lose their primordial atmospheres. "Ones that are this hot are even rarer still", Deming said.

The WASP-121b study is part of the Panchromatic Comparative Exoplanet Treasury (PanCET) survey, a Hubble program to look at 20 exoplanets, ranging in size from super-Earths (several times Earth's mass) to Jupiters (which are over 100 times Earth's mass), in the first large-scale ultraviolet, visible, and infrared comparative study of distant worlds.

The Hubble Telescope, developed jointly by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Space Telescope Science Institute, has been making space observations since 1990.

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