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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

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.

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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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Astronomers Use Massive Cluster of Galaxies as X-Ray Magnifying Glass to Spot Tiny Dwarf Galaxy

What they detected appears to be a blue speck of an infant galaxy, about 1/10,000 the size of our Milky Way, in the midst of churning out

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Astronomers, Galaxies, X-Ray
While galaxy clusters have been used to magnify objects at optical wavelengths, this is the first time scientists have leveraged these massive gravitational giants to zoom in on extreme, distant, X-ray-emitting phenomena. Pixabay

Using a massive cluster of galaxies as an X-ray magnifying glass, astronomers have spotted a tiny dwarf galaxy in the first, super-energetic stages of star formation.

The new lens technique allowed the astronomers to peer back in time, to nearly 9.4 billion years ago.

While galaxy clusters have been used to magnify objects at optical wavelengths, this is the first time scientists have leveraged these massive gravitational giants to zoom in on extreme, distant, X-ray-emitting phenomena.

What they detected appears to be a blue speck of an infant galaxy, about 1/10,000 the size of our Milky Way, in the midst of churning out its first stars — supermassive, cosmically short-lived objects that emit high-energy X-rays, which the researchers detected in the form of a bright blue arc.

Astronomers, Galaxies, X-Ray
The new lens technique allowed the astronomers to peer back in time, to nearly 9.4 billion years ago. Pixabay

“It’s this little blue smudge, meaning it’s a very small galaxy that contains a lot of super-hot, very massive young stars that formed recently,” said Matthew Bayliss, a research scientist in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

“This galaxy is similar to the very first galaxies that formed in the universe … the kind of which no one has ever seen in X-ray in the distant universe before.”

The detection of this single, distant galaxy is proof that scientists can use galaxy clusters as natural X-ray magnifiers, to pick out extreme, highly energetic phenomena in the universe’s early history, Bayliss said.

“With this technique, we could, in the future, zoom in on a distant galaxy and age-date different parts of it — to say, this part has stars that formed 200 million years ago, versus another part that formed 50 million years ago, and pick them apart in a way you cannot otherwise do,” said Bayliss.

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The findings have been published in the journal Nature Astronomy. (IANS)