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Astronomers Have Found a Cloud Free Planet Outside Our Solar System

Just like an individual's fingerprints are unique, atoms and molecules have a unique spectral characteristic that can be used to detect their presence in celestial objects.

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Astronomers have found that a planet outside our solar system, which is similar to Saturn in mass and exceeds the size of Jupiter by 20 per cent, has an atmosphere free of clouds.
Astronomers during IAU meet, wikimedia commons
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Astronomers have found that a planet outside our solar system, which is similar to Saturn in mass and exceeds the size of Jupiter by 20 per cent, has an atmosphere free of clouds.

The hot gas giant, WASP-96b, periodically transits a Sun-like star 980 light years away in the southern constellation Phoenix.

Using the the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, the team studied the atmosphere of WASP-96b when the planet passed in front of its host-star.

This enabled the team to measure the decrease of starlight caused by the planet and its atmosphere, and thereby determine the planet’s atmospheric composition.

“We’ve been looking at more than twenty exoplanet transit spectra. WASP-96b is the only exoplanet that appears to be entirely cloud-free and shows such a clear sodium signature, making the planet a benchmark for characterisation,” said lead author of the study Nikolay Nikolov from University of Exeter in Britain.

Just like an individual’s fingerprints are unique, atoms and molecules have a unique spectral characteristic that can be used to detect their presence in celestial objects.

The spectrum of WASP-96b shows the complete fingerprint of sodium, which can only be observed for an atmosphere free of clouds, according to the study published in the journal Nature.

The spectrum of WASP-96b shows the complete fingerprint of sodium, which can only be observed for an atmosphere free of clouds, according to the study published in the journal Nature.
Planets and solar system, Pixabay

It has long been predicted that sodium exists in the atmospheres of hot gas-giant exoplanets, and in a cloud-free atmosphere it would produce spectra that are similar in shape to the profile of a camping tent.

“Until now, sodium was revealed either as a very narrow peak or found to be completely missing. This is because the characteristic ‘tent-shaped’ profile can only be produced deep in the atmosphere of the planet and for most planet clouds appear to get in the way,” Nikolov added.

Clouds and hazes are known to exist in some of the hottest and coldest solar system planets and exoplanets.

Also Read: Microsoft Partners With China Based DJI, World’s Largest Drone Company

The presence or absence of clouds and their ability to block light plays an important role in the overall energy budget of planetary atmospheres.

“It is difficult to predict which of these hot atmospheres will have thick clouds. By seeing the full range of possible atmospheres, from very cloudy to nearly cloud-free like WASP-96b, we’ll gain a better understanding of what these clouds are made of,” explains study co-author Jonathan Fortney, Professor at University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), US. (IANS)

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NASA’s Ralph Will Explore Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids In 2021

Ralph's infrared detectors are 2,000 pixels square, compared to New Horizons Ralph's 256 by 256, allowing for images with more detail.

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NASA, tissue
NASA to send tissue chips to space to test human health, genetic changes. Flcikr

 NASA’s Ralph, one of the most well-travelled scientific instrument, is set to explore Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids aboard the Lucy spacecraft in 2021, the US space agency said.

Ralph has made many discoveries since it first launched aboard the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006. Given a name and not an acronym, Ralph enables the study of the composition and atmospheres of celestial objects.

In 2021, the Lucy spacecraft will carry a near-twin of Ralph, called L’Ralph (“Lucy Ralph”), to investigate Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, which are remnants from the early days of the solar system, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

jupiter
Jupiter. Pixabay

The L’Ralph instrument suite will study this diverse group of bodies. Lucy will fly by six Trojans and one Main Belt asteroid, more than any other previous asteroid mission.

L’Ralph will detect the Trojan asteroids’ chemical fingerprints, the statement said.

L’Ralph allows scientists to interpret data provided by the Sun’s reflected light that are the fingerprints of different elements and compounds.

These data could provide clues about how organic molecules form in primitive bodies, a process that might also have led to the emergence of life on Earth.

L’Ralph needs to have many capabilities in a small, light body structure to keep the spacecraft efficient and the mission productive.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
L’Ralph needs to have many capabilities in a small, light body structure to keep the spacecraft efficient and the mission productive.Flickr

Its instrument suite contains the Multi-spectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) and the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA), both of which are fed by the same optics, meaning that Ralph can observe both visible and infrared wavelengths.

These dual capabilities are what makes Ralph and its cousin L’Ralph so special, according to Dennis Reuter, the instrument principal investigator for L’Ralph.

“Most instruments can image visible or infrared wavelengths, but L’Ralph can do both,” said Reuter.

Also Read: Mars Curiosity Rover Returns Back To Work: NASA

Compared to the Ralph that flies with New Horizons, Lucy’s L’Ralph has enhanced technology. It can detect a broader spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, it has a moving mirror that reflects light into L’Ralph instead of requiring movements of the entire spacecraft.

Ralph’s infrared detectors are 2,000 pixels square, compared to New Horizons Ralph’s 256 by 256, allowing for images with more detail. (IANS)