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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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A Dozen New Moons Found Orbiting Jupiter

Twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter have been found -- 11 'normal' outer moons, and one that they're calling an 'oddball.'

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Jupiter
Astronomers Discovers 12 New Moons Orbiting Around Jupiter. (VOA)

Astronomers are still finding moons at Jupiter, 400 years after Galileo used his spyglass to spot the first ones.

The latest discovery of a dozen small moons brings the total to 79, the most of any planet in our solar system.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system last year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter’s backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington. They saw a new group of objects moving around the giant gas planet but didn’t know whether they were moons or asteroids passing near the planet.

“There was no eureka moment,” said Sheppard, who led the team of astronomers. “It took a year to figure out what these objects were.”

They all turned out to be moons of Jupiter. The confirmation of 10 was announced Tuesday. Two were confirmed earlier.

The moons had not been spotted before because they are tiny. They are about one to two kilometers across, said astronomer Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

And he thinks Jupiter might have even more moons just as small waiting to be found.

“We just haven’t observed them enough,” said Williams, who helped confirm the moons’ orbits.

Jupiter
12 New Moons Discovered Orbiting Jupiter. Pixabay

The team is calling one of the new moons an “oddball” because of its unusual orbit. Sheppard’s girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter.

Valetudo is in Jupiter’s distant, outer swarm of moons that circles in the opposite direction of the planet’s rotation. Yet it’s orbiting in the same direction as the planet, against the swarm’s traffic.

“This moon is going down the highway the wrong way,” Sheppard said.

Scientists believe moons like Valetudo and its siblings appeared soon after Jupiter formed. The planet must have acted like a vacuum, sucking up all the material that was around it. Some of that debris was captured as moons.

“What astonishes me about these moons is that they’re the remnants of what the planet formed from,” he said.

Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and Arizona were used for the latest discovery and confirmation.

Also Read-NASA Probes Unveils Stormy Environment of Jupiter’s moon

Galileo detected Jupiter’s four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, in 1610. The latest count of 79 known moons includes eight that have not been seen for several years. Saturn is next with 61, followed by Uranus with 27 and Neptune with 14. Mars has two, Earth has one and Mercury and Venus have none. (VOA)