The JPL machinery that created a simulated hot Jupiter. Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech
People have not yet found out how to travel to other star systems to study exoplanets close by. But NASA has reached the second best – recreating the atmosphere of the bizarre alien worlds right here on earth.
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, have managed to make a simulated version of a "hot Jupiter." These worlds are similar in scale to Jupiter, but are much closer to their stars than any planet in our solar system, with years lasting no more than 1
A team led by JPL researcher Benjamin Fleury created similar conditions in a laboratory using a recipe of hydrogen and a small carbon monoxide gas pinch. (Carbon and hydrogen gas are extremely common materials in planet formation.)
Concept art of a warm Jupiter. Picture: Kevin Gill
Fleury and his colleagues warmed the mixture up to 1,100 ° C in an oven-like contrast. blown the gas with UV and optical radiation with a lamp located next to a window in the oven. This technique was designed to probe the photochemistry – the chemical effects of light in the atmospheres of these planets.
The results present "first-laboratory experimental simulation of photochemistry in carbon-rich exoplanet atmospheres at elevated temperatures," according to a study by the Fleury's team published in The Astrophysical Journal .
When the simulated hot Jupiter was exposed to these high temperatures and faux-state light beams, its brew of hydrogen and carbon monoxide partially converted to water and carbon dioxide. This confirms earlier observations of water vapor in the hot Jupiter's atmospheres and suggests that water may be more common on these planets than previously thought.
The photochemical reactions also catalyzed the formation of aerosols which are thick condensates that cause atmospheric haze. Aerosols have been detected in true warm Jupiter, but their role in producing the opaque opaque appearance and atmospheric dynamics is not understood.
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"This result changes the way we interpret the bad, hot Jupiter atmospheres," said Fleury in a JPL statement on Thursday . "We want to study the properties of these aerosols. We want to better understand how they form, how they absorb light and how they react to changes in the environment."
"All that information can help astronomers understand what they see when they observe these planets," added Fleury.
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