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An explanation has been found for the mystery surrounding cotton candy planets

An explanation has been found for the mystery surrounding cotton candy planets

For the first time, the interior of an exoplanet has been mapped, and during the research it was revealed how, despite their large size, “puffy planets” with very small masses, i.e. cotton candy planets, can acquire their strange shape.

The recently discovered exoplanet WASP-193b is not the first among the planets discovered so far, but it is one of the most unusual, as the mass of the planet is so low that only one other celestial body, Kepler-51d, precedes it. In the competition for the lightest planets ever discovered. These exoplanets with extremely low-density atmospheres have been called “cotton candy planets” because measurements have shown that their masses are much smaller than what would be expected from a planet of their size, suggesting that the planets have an unusual structure that is distinct from what they were probably formed through evolutionary processes. Unusual. Astronomers estimate the density of WASP-193b at about 0.05 grams per cubic centimeter based on recent calculations based on data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope — a value that rivals the density of cotton candy.

Astronomers mapped WASP-107b among the celestial bodies, also referred to as bulge planets, more accurately last year, and found that the planet's atmosphere contains a large amount of water, sulfur dioxide, and silicates, the presence of the latter indicating that the body's celestial atmosphere is… Basically, sand clouds migrate and sand falls from them. The researchers also found an explanation for how clouds form: the relatively low temperature of 500 degrees Celsius prevailing in the outer part of the planet's atmosphere is much higher in the inner layers of the atmosphere, so the silicates that separate from the cloud in the upper, “cooler” region are Lower, where it evaporates and forms clouds again, which then move upward. The planet also bears another strangeness, according to spectroscopic observations, as no signs of methane gas were found in the upper region of its atmosphere, but researchers attributed this unusual feature to the high temperature prevailing here.

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Representation of WASP-107b based on data from the Hubble Space Telescope (Image: ESA/Hubble, NASA, and M. Kornmesser)

According to more recent analyzes of the data, which used measurements from the James Webb Space Telescope, like the previous ones, a thousand times less methane than expected was also detected in the atmosphere of the planet WASP-107b. Although there is some methane in the atmosphere, most of the molecules, according to the conclusions, are transformed into other substances as they rise into the atmosphere.

“Methane is unstable at high temperatures. The fact that we have detected so little, even though we have detected other types of carbon molecules, tells us that the interior of the planet is much hotter than we thought.”

He said to me David Singh, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University, talks about the tests.

The interior of the celestial body has now been mapped in detail for the first time, and it was also the first time researchers were able to observe the core of an exoplanet in more detail based on data from the James Webb Space Telescope. Through the measurements, the researchers gained insight into how the exoplanet's structure is built and why its atmosphere is so expansive, giving it a cotton candy character – that is, its low density. The reason for the size of the atmospheric layer is the extreme temperature of the inner core, which on the one hand changes the composition of gases in the layers at different altitudes, and on the other hand allows the gases to “expand”, while a colder and more massive core would make it more difficult for the atmosphere to expand. The size of the planet will be smaller. However, it was not clear where WASP-107b gets the energy needed to heat the core, but based on the data, researchers put forward a theory in this regard: the planet is heating up thanks to so-called tidal heating, which occurs due to its elliptical orbit. During its orbit, the distance between it and its star changes continuously, and thus the gravitational forces affecting it also change, and this effect stretches the planet and leads to an increase in its temperature.

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James Webb Space Telescope data support previous theories about exoplanet evolution, but the theories will be validated by further investigations. The Open University involved in the research Says However, the cotton candy planet is now less mysterious than previously thought, and thus there is now a satisfactory explanation for the formation of other “puffy planets” similar to WASP-107b.

(Photo: University of Liège)


New details about the cotton candy planet have been revealed based on data from the James Webb Space Telescope
European astronomers took a closer look at WASP-107b and were able to determine the composition of the planet's clouds.


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