The JPL machine that created a simulated hot Jupiter. Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech
People have not yet figured out how to travel to other star systems to study exoplanets up close. But NASA has done the next best thing – restoring the atmospheres of bizarre alien worlds here on Earth.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) researchers in Pasadena, California, have managed to cook a simulated version of a "hot" Jupiter. "These worlds are similar in size to Jupiter, but much closer to their stars than any planet in our solar system whose years last no more than 1
A team led by JPL researcher Benjamin Fleury set similar conditions in a laboratory using a hydrogen formula and a small pinch of carbon monoxide gas. (Carbon and hydrogen gas are extremely common materials in planet formation.)
Conceptual art of a hot Jupiter. Image: Kevin Gill
Fleury and his colleagues heated the mixture in an oven-like device to 1,100 ° C (2,000 ° F) gas with UV radiation and optical radiation with a lamp next to a window in the oven. This technique was developed to study the photochemistry – the chemical effects of light – in the atmospheres of these planets.
The results present the first laboratory experimental simulation of photochemistry in carbon-rich exoplanet atmospheres at elevated temperatures, "according to a study by Fleury's team, published in The Astrophysical Journal .
As the simulated hot Jupiter was exposed to these high temperatures and fauxs -starligh t rays, his brew of hydrogen and carbon monoxide partly converted into water and carbon dioxide, confirming earlier observations of water vapor in the atmosphere of hot Jupiter, suggesting that water could be more abundant on this planet than previously accepted.
The photochemical reactions also catalyzed the formation of aerosols, thick condensates that cause atmospheric turbidity Aerosols were detected in true hot Jupiter, but their role in creating the opaque appearance and atmospheric dynamics of the exoplanets is not well understood.
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"This result changes the way we interpret these hazy hot Jupiter atmospheres," said Fleury on Thursday JPL statement. "In the future, we want to explore the properties of these aerosols, to understand better how they are formed, how they absorb light, and how they respond to environmental change."
"All this information can help astronomers understand what they see when they watch these planets," Fleury added.
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