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Exoplanet WASP-43b: Clouds of liquid rock, but surprisingly methane-free

Exoplanet WASP-43b: Clouds of liquid rock, but surprisingly methane-free

The exoplanet WASP-43b, which orbits closely around its star, has two halves that diverge significantly from each other, and in the half facing away from the star, massive storms prevent chemical reactions beneath clouds of liquefied rock or metal. This is how an international research team describes what observational data from the James Webb Space Telescope revealed about the celestial body. Temperatures there range between about 600 and 1250 degrees Celsius, which is why “hot Jupiter” does not resemble the largest planet in our solar system at all, except for its mass and size. The analysis is made possible because the mid-infrared (MIRI) instrument works similarly to a non-contact thermometer, Officials explained.


WASP-43b is about 280 light-years away and takes about 20 hours to orbit its star. So it is very close to it and at the same time passes in front of it from our perspective. Researchers have now taken advantage of this again, because with the Hubble Space Telescope it has already been possible to detect hydrogen on the dayside of the exoplanet. This was possible through measurements made while the exoplanet was directly next to the star from our perspective, before and after it disappeared behind it. Night side analyzes, on the other hand, focus on the exoplanet before, during, and after it passes in front of the star. Only now is the James Webb Space Telescope sensitive enough to do this.

Spectroscopic measurements of the exoplanet showed no methane on the night side. However, this must be caused by chemical reactions of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which normally occur in such celestial bodies, but cannot be detected with the technology used. The team explains the lack of methane by the enormous wind speeds that must exist between the side that always faces the star and the side away from it. They will be chasing material on the night side at approximately 9,000 km/h, which is why there will not be enough time for chemical reactions to occur. They also believe that the still very hot night side is surrounded by clouds that must consist of liquid rock droplets.

Overall, the data revealed “a complex and inhospitable world with strong winds and huge temperature differences,” summarizes co-author Laura Kreidberg of the institute. The unprecedented level of detail in this description is thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope. The research work presented now confirms once again how diverse climate conditions are on exoplanets “and that Earth is special in many ways.” The James Webb Space Telescope's NIRSpec near-infrared spectrometer will then be used to search for carbon monoxide on WASP-43b to further support the hypothesis. The previous work is now presented in the journal Nature Astronomy.


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