NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope recently gazed deep into the clouds of an intriguing nearby exoplanet named WASP-107b. During the detailed observation, JWST used its powerful spotted Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) to spot a complex chemical composition in the exoplanet’s atmosphere.
The official statement released by JWST’s team reveals that the clouds of WASP-107b comprise silicate sand, water vapor, and sulfur dioxide. The Data obtained from this observation showed that the exoplanet does not have signatures of the greenhouse gas methane. Its features show that the planet contains Neptune-like gaseous properties.
Scientists marvel at the existence of this planet as it moves around a star that is less massive and colder than our Sun. The latest discovery provides valuable insights into the dynamics and chemistry of this fascinating exoplanet.
Why This Latest Discovery Marvels Scientists
Researchers revealed that the latest findings show the dynamic atmospheric chemistry in the exoplanet’s clouds. In fact, the absence of methane shows a likely heated interior of the exoplanet, the new study suggests. This heated interior could possibly offer a detailed insight into the dynamics of heat energy movement within the exoplanet’s atmosphere.
The finding of sulfur dioxide on the planet was indeed a major surprise for the researchers as previous simulations predicted its absence. But current climate models of the exoplanet’s clouds reveal that its fluffy nature could enable the formation of sulfur dioxide.
“Even though its host star emits a relatively small fraction of high-energy photons due to its cooler nature, these photons can reach deep into the planet’s atmosphere thanks to its fluffy nature. This enables the chemical reactions required to produce sulfur dioxide to occur,” explained the release.
Other Interesting Features You Should Know About WASP-107b
WASP-107b is truly a one-of-a-kind exoplanet. Its mass is equivalent to that of Neptune. Scientists revealed that WASP-107b is massive in size as it could be compared to Jupiter in size.
Its unique mixture of massive mass and expansive size made it one of the lowest-density known exoplanets ever discovered. The spectral data also reveals a unique drop in both sulfur dioxide and water vapor in the clouds.
This discovery shows that the exoplanet’s clouds could possibly contain tiny silicate particles. WASP-107b also has an outer atmosphere temperature of about 500 degrees Celsius.
“The fact that we see these sand clouds high up in the atmosphere must mean that the sand rain droplets evaporate in deeper, very hot layers, and the resulting silicate vapor is efficiently moved back up, where they recondense to form silicate clouds once more. This is very similar to the water vapor and cloud cycle on our own Earth but with droplets made of sand,” Michiel Min, the lead author, explained.
Sand clouds may attain high elevations as they experience a continual cycle of sublimation and condensation boosted by vertical transport.
“JWST is revolutionizing exoplanet characterization, providing unprecedented insights at remarkable speed. The discovery of clouds of sand, water, and sulfur dioxide on this fluffy exoplanet by JWST’s MIRI instrument is a pivotal milestone. It reshapes our understanding of planetary formation and evolution, shedding new light on our own Solar System,” said lead author Prof. Leen Decin of KU Leuven.
The discovery was published in the journal Nature.
Astronomers recently discovered sand clouds in the atmosphere of a nearby exoplanet named WASP-107b. Hence, the researchers relied on the data obtained by the JWST to make this intriguing finding. What do you think about this historic discovery?