Bizarre Exoplanet 'WASP-127b' is a Gas Giant That's Filled With Several Metals and Maybe Water

Sunday, 03 June 2018 - 5:21PM
Space
Astronomy
Sunday, 03 June 2018 - 5:21PM
Bizarre Exoplanet 'WASP-127b' is a Gas Giant That's Filled With Several Metals and Maybe Water
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An exoplanet (a term which simply means a planet in another solar system) like WASP-127b is one of the last places you'd expect to find water, but space is a weird place sometimes.

To give some context: WASP-127b is a gas giant that's 1.4 times the size of Jupiter but only 20 percent as dense, with a surface temperature of 2,060 degrees Fahrenheit (1,127 degrees Celsius), and it takes only four days to orbit its star. Out of the thousands of exoplanets we've discovered thus far, we've never found anything quite like this one before.

And since the exoplanet has some clear skies (about 50 percent clear skies), a team of astronomers at the University of Cambridge and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in Spain were able to analyze the planet by observing it through the "Gran Telescopio Canarias" in the Canary Islands, and they determined that it's extremely metallic. And it may possibly contain water as well.



Specifically, its atmosphere appears to be chock full of sodium, potassium, and lithium. The presence of lithium is especially interesting because the planet's star, WASP-127, is also full of the same metal, which could mean that this star drew in some leftover materials from a nearby supernova when the system was first forming.

As for the water, the signs were weak but still distinctive. The researchers are hesitant to declare that water has conclusively been found, but to find possible signs of water on an oddball planet like this is still an accomplishment. It might be difficult to tell for sure until technology for studying exoplanets improves. 

The James Webb Space Telescope will be a marked improvement in exoplanet-observing technology once it launches, and the team hopes that WASP-127b could be a reference planet just because of how unusual it is. Unfortunately, the James Webb telescope has run into a number of problems during its construction, and while it's currently scheduled to launch in 2020, there's a chance it could be delayed even further (again).

But once it's up in space, we may be able to tell for sure just what WASP-127b is hiding under it's clear, metallic skies.

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