Tag Archives: Ultra-hot Jupiters

MPIA press release: An exotic water cycle and metal clouds on the hot Jupiter WASP-121 b

Here’s another catch-up on a recent press release from MPIA, reporting on Hubble Space Telescope observations of WASP-121b.

“A group of astronomers, led by Thomas Mikal-Evans from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, have made the first detailed measurement of atmospheric nightside conditions of a tidally locked hot Jupiter. By including measurements from the dayside hemisphere, they determined how water changes physical states when moving between the hemispheres of the exoplanet WASP-121 b. While airborne metals and minerals evaporate on the hot dayside, the cooler night side features metal clouds and rain made of liquid gems. This study, published in Nature Astronomy, is a big step in deciphering the global cycles of matter and energy in the atmospheres of exoplanets.”

“To probe the entire surface of WASP-121 b, we took spectra with Hubble during two complete planet revolutions,” co-author David Sing from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA, explains. With this technique and supported by modelling the data, the group probed the upper atmosphere of WASP-121 b across the entire planet and, in doing so, observed the complete water cycle of an exoplanet for the first time.

“On the side of the planet facing the central star, the upper atmosphere becomes as hot as about 3000 degrees Celsius. At such temperatures, the water begins to glow, and many of the molecules even break down into their atomic components. The Hubble data also reveal that the temperature drops by approximately 1500 degrees Celsius on the nightside hemisphere. This extreme temperature difference between the two hemispheres gives rise to strong winds that sweep around the entire planet from west to east, dragging the disrupted water molecules along. Eventually, they reach the nightside. The lower temperatures allow the hydrogen and oxygen atoms to recombine, forming water vapour again before being blown back around to the dayside and the cycle repeats. Temperatures never drop low enough for water clouds to form throughout the cycle, let alone rain.”

“Instead of water, clouds on WASP-121 b mainly consist of metals such as iron, magnesium, chromium and vanadium. Previous observations have revealed the spectral signals of these metals as gases on the hot dayside. The new Hubble data indicate that temperatures drop low enough for the metals to condense into clouds on the nightside. The same eastward flowing winds that carry the water vapour across the nightside would also blow these metal clouds back around to the dayside, where they again evaporate.

“Strangely, aluminium and titanium were not among the gases detected in the atmosphere of WASP-121 b. A likely explanation for this is that these metals have condensed and rained down into deeper layers of the atmosphere, not accessible to observations. This rain would be unlike any known in the Solar System. For instance, aluminium condenses with oxygen to form the compound corundum. With impurities of chromium, iron, titanium or vanadium, we know it as ruby or sapphire. Liquid gems could therefore be raining on the nightside hemisphere of WASP-121 b.”

The press release has been taken up by numerous media and press websites.

NASA press release: Hubble probes extreme weather on ultra-hot Jupiters

Here’s a quick catch-up on a recent NASA/ESA press release. Based on Hubble Space Telescope observations of WASP-178b and KELT-20b, NASA declare:

“In studying a unique class of ultra-hot exoplanets, NASA Hubble Space Telescope astronomers may be in the mood for dancing to the Calypso party song “Hot, Hot, Hot.” That’s because these bloated Jupiter-sized worlds are so precariously close to their parent star they are being roasted at seething temperatures above 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot enough to vaporize most metals, including titanium. They have the hottest planetary atmospheres ever seen.”

Illustration of an ultra-hot Jupiter (Credit: NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI) )

“In a paper in the April 6 journal Nature, astronomers describe Hubble observations of WASP-178b, located about 1,300 light-years away. On the daytime side the atmosphere is cloudless, and is enriched in silicon monoxide gas. Because one side of the planet permanently faces its star, the torrid atmosphere whips around to the nighttime side at super-hurricane speeds exceeding 2,000 miles per hour. On the dark side, the silicon monoxide may cool enough to condense into rock that rains out of clouds, but even at dawn and dusk, the planet is hot enough to vaporize rock. “We knew we had seen something really interesting with this silicon monoxide feature,” said Josh Lothringer of the Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.”

The press release has been taken up by over 50 press and media websites.

CHEOPS observes WASP-189b

ESA’s CHEOPS satellite was launched to produce high-quality light-curves of exoplanet systems. A new paper led by Adrien Deline of the University of Geneva now reports CHEOPS observations around the orbit of the ultra-hot-Jupiter WASP-189b. The figure shows the transit (planet passing in front of the star), the eclipse (the planet passing behind the star) and a slower variation caused by the varying visibility of the heated face of the planet.

One notable feature of the transit of WASP-189b is that it is distinctly asymmetrical. This is caused by gravity darkening, which occurs when a star is rapidly rotating. The centrifugal forces cause the equatorial regions to be pushed outwards, producing an equatorial bulge. Since the bulge is then further from the star’s centre, the surface gravity will be lower, and that means that the surface will be cooler and thus dimmer.

The illustrations below show the asymmetry, where the dashed line in the lowest panel shows the difference between a transit model both with and without gravity darkening. The right-hand panel illustrates the polar orbit of the planet.

Tidal deformation of WASP-103b

With ultra-hot Jupiters being so near to their star their shape is predicted to be distorted away from spherical by the tidal effects of the host-star’s gravity. The resulting “rugby-ball” shape (more technically called a “Roche lobe”) will then produce a transit profile that is slightly different from that produced by a spherical planet.

The CHEOPS team now report that they have detected this distortion in the case of WASP-103b. A press release presents the infographic:

The CHEOPS observations of transits of WASP-103b are shown below (grey points). The blue model is the expected profile for a deformed planet, while the green line (lowest panel) is the expected difference in transit profile between a deformed planet and a spherical planet. The CHEOPS team show statistically that the data prefer the deformed shape, at a confidence level of 3σ.

The authors, Susana Barros et al, explain that the degree of tidal deformation constrains the distribution of mass within the planet, since the gaseous hydrogen envelope is much easier to deform than the rocky core. ESA have produced an artist’s illustration showing the distorted shape of WASP-103b:

Following ESA’s press release, the work has been reported by CNN, Newsweek, the BBC, the Daily Mail, The Sun, The Independent and numerous other websites in multiple languages.

Iron in the atmosphere of the ultra-hot-Jupiter WASP-33b

Here’s a plot from a new paper by David Cont et al, of the University of Göttingen. The plot shows spectra of the WASP-33 system, obtained with the CARMENES near-infra-red spectrograph on the 3.5-m telescope at the Calar Alto Observatory.

The image shows features caused by iron absorption lines, as a function of time (y-axis). The spectra have all been adjusted so that zero velocity (RV) is centred on the host star, WASP-33. The star’s rotation then causes features over the spread of velocities marked by the dashed yellow lines.

One can clearly see the rippling effect of pulsations as they run around the star. The pulsations are likely being excited by the tidal pull of the planet.

In addition, though, and marked by yellow arrows, is a faint diagonal line. This is caused by the planet, WASP-33b, and is the effect of iron absorption lines in the planet’s atmosphere. It moves diagonally across the image owing to the orbital motion of the planet around the star.

By comparing their analysis of iron lines to a similar analysis for Titanium Oxide, the authors show that there is a temperature inversion (higher temperature at greater height) in the atmosphere of the planet.

Weather on ultra-hot-Jupiter WASP-121b?

Here’s a plot of the spectrum of the ultra-hot-Jupiter WASP-121b. It’s from a new paper led by Jamie Wilson of Queen’s University Belfast.

The plot compares results from different instruments at different times. In particular the green points are from the ground-based Gemini/GMOS instrument, and are fitted by the model in red. The light-blue points (and fitted purple model) are from the space-based HST/STIS instrument.

Clearly the two datasets are not consistent. One possible explanation would involve instrumental systematics that are not properly accounted for in the analysis. Such analyses are right at the edge of what can be done, pushing the instruments beyond their designed capabilities, and reducing the datasets to a properly calibrated spectrum is a demanding task.

The other possible explanation is that WASP-121b really was different on the two occasions, and that “weather” on the planet is affecting its atmosphere. Just as Earth’s atmosphere can change from clear to cloudy, we expect that the same could be occurring on exoplanets.

The authors say that: “WASP-121b is expected to have wind speeds of 7 km/s and a pressure–temperature profile which lies near the condensation curves of a number of species”, and thus: “It is therefore perhaps not all that surprising that small temperature fluctuations could result in significant spatial and temporal variations in atmospheric constituents and could lead to measurable variations in transit measurements.”

ESPRESSO looks at ultra-hot-Jupiter WASP-121b

ESPRESSO is ESO’s state-of-the-art spectrograph for the Very Large Telescope, specifically designed to get the best data possible on planetary systems.

Francesco Borsa et al have pointed ESPRESSO at transits of the ultra-hot-Jupiter WASP-121b, and the ESPRESSO team have put out a series of Tweets explaining the paper:

Dayside spectrum of the ultrahot-Jupiter WASP-121b

Thomas Mikal-Evans et al have released a new paper analysing the heated, dayside face of WASP-121b. Teams studying the atmospheres of exoplanets either look at the transit, when the planet’s atmosphere is projected against the host star, such that molecules produce absorption features in the spectrum, or they study the eclipse, when the heated face of the planet disappear and then reappears. In the latter, atmospheric molecules produce emission features in the spectrum.

Here is the spectrum of the heated face of WASP-121b, based on recording five eclipses using the WFC3 spectrograph on the Hubble Space Telescope. The orange line and yellow banding show the spectrum expected for a pure black body of the same temperature as the planet. The red lines then show model fits, which reveal emission features caused by H ions and water (H2O) molecules.