Thursday, 23 November, 2017

WASP-12b: Hubble Spots Almost Completely Black Exoplanet

WASP-12b Hubble observes exoplanet so dark that it absorbs 94 percent of the visible starlight that falls on it
Nicole Thomas | 17 September, 2017, 17:36

"There are other hot Jupiters that have been found to be remarkably black, but they are much cooler than WASP-12b", he said in the same statement. The WASP-12b was discovered in 2008 and is considered one of the most important exoplanets as far as studies and research are concerned.

Hubble observed WASP-12b when the planet's star passed in front of the planet from Earth's perspective in October 2016.

WASP-12b is so close to its parent star that its daylight side is superheated to almost 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,540 degrees Celsius) and stretched into a football shape by enormous tidal forces.

This required a precision ten times greater than traditional transit observations, though, which is one of the Hubble Space Telescope's Imaging Spectrograph's strengths, letting scientists measure the albedo of WASP-12b at different wavelengths. COS detected material from the planet's super-heated atmosphere spilling onto the star.

Only the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is powerful enough to carry out such vast measurements.

"The results were surprising!"

WASP-12b which is located almost 2 million miles far from its star has different night time story as it is much cooler and shows the presence of clouds and haze. From this, researchers found out that the exoplanet's albedo is only 0.064 and defined it to be darker than fresh asphalt.

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A value of " extremely low", knowing that for comparison, this reflectivity is about 0.37 for the Earth, and 0.12 for our Moon (0.52 for Jupiter).

In particular, the WASP-12b study sheds new light (excuse the pun) on what the atmosphere around WASP-12b is like, and how that compares to other exoplanets of a similar size.

The new Hubble data indicate that the exoplanet's atmosphere is composed of atomic hydrogen and helium.

It's so hot, in fact, that molecular hydrogen - the familiar H2 - gets broken apart into atomic hydrogen in WASP-12b's skies. According to the NASA astronomers, the pitch black planet is similar to Jupiter in our solar system as the planet is mostly made up of gas and has extremely hot surface temperature that hovers around 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Hydrogen atoms are quite rare in planetary atmospheres due to the element's highly reactive nature. This leads to the low albedo of the exoplanet.

The side that receives the most light reaches temperatures that are too hot for clouds and alkali metals to form. It is 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit (1,340 degrees Celsius) cooler, which allows water vapor and clouds to form.

WASP-12b is just the second exoplanet to have its albedo measured spectrally in this manner. Absence of clouds and atmosphere does not reflect any light and enables planet to absorb nearly all the light falling on its surface.

To know more about the planet's atmospheric composition, researchers measured the amount of light that WASP-12b reflects, known as the albedo. Researchers said that WASP-12b does not appear to show a color preference in the light that it reflects and rather glows red like a hot glowing metal because of its heat.

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