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We have detected clouds on WASP-127b, an exoplanet 520 light years from us

With the help of various telescopes, a team of researchers has been able to detect clouds on WASP-127b, an exoplanet 520 light years from Earth. An unprecedented success, not only for being able to detect them, but to do so with enough precision to determine their altitude with respect to the surface.

The exoplanet WASP-127b was discovered in 2016 and has been of great interest ever since for astronomers. The reason? It is a particular exoplanet because of how “fluffy” it becomes. It is a gaseous planet that is especially close to its orbiting star. This causes the heat it receives (it experiences temperatures of up to 1,100 degrees Celsius) to swell dramatically. To get an idea, it is 1.3 times the size of Jupiter but only 0.16 times the mass of Jupiter.

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WASP-127b’s orbit is very close to its star, allowing it to complete in just 4.2 Earth days. In other words, a year there lasts four days here. This constant orbit, together with the fact that it has a very thin atmosphere because it is so spongy, has allowed astronomers to better study what the exoplanet looks like.

Analyzed how light filters through the exoplanet

To discover exoplanets astronomers need these to pass in front of their stars. In this way, the attenuation of the star’s brightness due to the object in front of it is detected. This is how we can also study its composition by analyzing how light passes through it.

A team of researchers from the University of Montreal, in Canada, combined the infrared data collected by Hubble in the space and ESPRESSO data on the Very Large Telescope here in the earth. With this they were able to observe the composition of the exoplanet at different altitudes.

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When light from the host star passes through WASP-127b elements in the atmosphere absorb some wavelengths. Depending on what lengths do not reach us, we can deduce what materials are on the planet.

What has been detected? First presence of sodium was found, something normal in this type of exoplanets, but not at such a low altitude as it happened here. On the other hand, there were water vapor signals in the infrared spectrum, although they were not found in the visible spectrum.

These observations allow a better understanding of what atmospheres are like on other exoplanets and thus to be able to find possible places where living conditions exist. WASP-127b, in any case, is not one of them due to its extreme temperatures and the fact that it is a gaseous planet. In others we have seen that it is so hot that it rains cast iron.

So are the "hycean": a new class of exoplanet much more promising to host life

Usually, discovered exoplanets so far they are not usually very hospitable. But we have exceptions, like some with water or some very Earth-like. Sooner or later we will find an ideal one.

Vía | Phys
More information | POT