The study shows the atmosphere of the exoplanet ‘Hot Neptune’

The study shows the atmosphere of the exoplanet ‘Hot Neptune’
The study shows the atmosphere of the exoplanet ‘Hot Neptune’
Using data from NASA’s TESS and Spitzer Space Telescopes, a team of astronomers at the University of Kansas portrayed the atmosphere of a highly unusual exoplanet called LTT 9779b, also known as the “hot Neptune”.

For the first time, astronomers have detailed the spectral atmospheric characterization of a planet discovered by TESS. They measured the light that emanates from this planet and should not exist.

LTT 9779b is an extraordinary planet. It orbits so close to its star that its year lasts only 19 hours and the stellar radiation heats the planet to 1,727 degrees Celsius (3,141 degrees Fahrenheit). Its atmosphere could have evaporated completely. However, Spitzer’s observations show us its atmosphere via the infrared light that the planet emits.

In addition, the planet does not have a solid surface and it is actually much hotter than Mercury in our solar system.

This artist’s impression shows the roughly-to-scale LTT 9779 system with the hot Neptune-sized planet on the left and its bright star nearby on the right. The trail of material flowing from the planet is hypothetical, but likely, based on the intense irradiation of this planet.

Discovered last year, the planet will become one of the first Neptune-sized planets to be found by NASA’s TESS planet-hunting mission.

The team measured how the planet emitted a lot of infrared light as it rotated 360 degrees on its axis.

Ian Crossfield, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at KU and lead author of the paper, said: “Infrared light tells you the temperature of something and where the hotter and cooler parts of this planet are – it isn’t hottest on earth at noon; It’s hottest a couple of hours in the afternoon. But it’s hottest on this planet around noon. We see most of the infrared light from part of the planet when its star is directly overhead and much less from other parts of the planet. “

Co-author Nicolas Cowan of the Institute for Exoplanet Research (iREx) and McGill University in Montreal said: “The planet is much cooler than expected, suggesting that it is reflecting much of the incident starlight that hits it, presumably due to daytime clouds. The planet doesn’t carry much heat to its night side either, but we believe we understand that: The absorbed starlight is likely to be absorbed high in the atmosphere, from where the energy is quickly radiated back into space. “

Crossfield said: “The results are only a first step into a new phase of exoplanetary exploration, as the study of the exoplanet’s atmosphere is steadily moving towards ever smaller planets.”

“I wouldn’t say we understand all about this planet now, but we’ve measured enough to know that this will be a fertile object for future study. The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s next large, billion-dollar flagship space telescope to come into service in a few years, is already scheduled for observation. “

“Our measurements so far show what we call spectral absorption features – and its spectrum shows carbon monoxide and / or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We are beginning to understand what molecules the atmosphere is made up of. Because we see that, and because this global temperature map looks like, it also tells us something about how the winds circulate energy and material through the atmosphere of this mini-gas planet. “

“While LTT 9779b is not suitable for human colonization or any other known form of life, assessing its atmosphere would improve techniques that might one day be used to find more welcoming planets to live on.”

“If anyone is to believe what astronomers are saying about finding signs of life or oxygen on other worlds, we have to show that we can get it right with the simple things first. With that in mind, these bigger, hotter planets like the LTT 9779b act like training wheels, showing that we know what we’re doing and can do everything right. “

“Much remains to be done to better understand LTT 9779b and similar hot neptunes that have not yet been discovered. We would like to continue to observe it with other telescopes so that we can answer further questions. “

Björn Benneke from iREx and the Université de Montréal said: “We found carbon monoxide in its atmosphere and found that the permanent day side is very hot, while very little heat is transported to the night side. Both results make LTT 9779b a strong signal to watch, making the planet a very interesting target for future detailed characterization with JWST. We are now also planning much more detailed phase curve observations with NIRISS on JWST. “

The results of the recently found planet LTT 9779b were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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