Science

Scientists detect Sunscreen snowfall on hot exoplanet

Scientists detect Sunscreen snowfall on hot exoplanet”

A team of astronomers may have discovered a "hot Jupiter" exoplanet with an atmosphere that snows titanium oxide - a kind of sunscreen - exclusively on the one side of the planet that is bathed in perpetual darkness.

Kepler-13Ab (top left) is six times more massive than Jupiter (bottom right), making it an exceptionally large exoplanet. As a result, the planet is one of the hottest of the known exoplanets.

Hubble astronomers suggest that powerful winds carry the titanium oxide gas around to the colder nighttime side, where it condenses into crystalline flakes, forms clouds, and precipitates as snow. On less massive worlds, it is likely that the titanium oxide snow would be swept back up, and circulated back to the dayside of the exoplanet, where it would be vaporized and return to its original gaseous state.

Studies of weird places like Kepler-13Ab not only highlight how mysterious the universe remains, but also offer clearer paths towards what we should expect when looking at Earth-like planets down the line. The study was published in The Astronomical Journal.

Lead author Thomas Beatty said: "In many ways, the atmospheric studies we're doing now on these gaseous "hot Jupiter" kind of planets are test beds for how we're going to do atmospheric studies of terrestrial, Earth-like planets". Also along with that, he said that understanding more about the atmospheres of these planets and how they work would help us when we study smaller planets that are harder to see and have more complicated features in their atmospheres.

He added that it is likely that similar precipitation happens on other 'hot Jupiters, ' but that Kepler-13Ab's strong surface gravity actually allows the snow to reach the lower parts of the planet's atmosphere. These clouds then drop the sunscreen "snow" into the lower atmosphere, where it stays, thanks to Kepler-13Ab's powerful gravity. "Seeing this cold-trap process in action provides us with a long-sought and important piece of that puzzle", Jason Wright, associate professor of astronomy at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, and one of the paper's co-authors said in a statement Thursday. The planet is also extremely close to its host star, and that has caused it to become tidally locked - that is, the planet has a day side and a night side which never change, as the planet orbits its star with the same side always facing towards its sun.

The researchers determined all this by analysing the planet's atmosphere that showed it is cooler at higher altitudes, contrary to what they were expecting.

This is an artist's impression of the gas giant planet Kepler-13Ab as compared in size to several of our solar system planets. Hubble made the observations as the distant world traveled behind its star, an event called a secondary eclipse. This type of transit yields information on the temperature of the components of the atmosphere on the exoplanet's dayside.

Kepler-13Ab, with the blistering surface temperature of about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit on the dayside, is located about 1,730 light-years away from Earth in the Kepler-13 system. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations.



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