Podcaster: Avivah Yamani

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Title: UNAWE Space Scoop – Stranger Things in a Stranger World

Organization: 365 Days Of Astronomy

Link : ;

Description: Space scoop, news for children. 

Astronomers found strange things happen in WASP-76b, exoplanet in Pisces Constellations. What actually happen? Let’s find out!

Bio: Avivah Yamani is an astronomy communicator from Indonesia. She is also the Project Manager of 365 Days of Astronomy.

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This is the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today we bring you a new episode in our Space Scoop series. This show is produced in collaboration with Universe Awareness, a program that strives to inspire every child with our wonderful cosmos.

Today’s story is…

Stranger Things in a Stranger World

On a clear night sky, head out to the backyard with star charts or night sky apps and look up. 

Can you spot the constellation Pisces? Did you know there is a strange world in the direction of this constellation? Astronomers recently found evidence of stranger things happening on this planet!

The planet we talk about today is WASP-76b. It’s indeed a strange exoplanet. It is almost the size of Jupiter, and it is located 634 light years away from our Earth. 

The planet orbits super close to its host star – almost 12 times closer than mercury is to the Sun! As a result, the planet is tidally locked to the host star. That means one side of a planet is always facing a star while the other is cloaked in perpetual darkness. It’s an endless night with only freezing darkness on one side and burning constant sunlight on the other. 

The dark side could be so cold that water and atmospheric components are frozen, certainly an inhospitable environment for life as we know it. And the day side isn’t good either. The star heats the planet’s atmosphere to scorching 2000°C. 

And what’s more… There’s an iron rain on this planet, resulting from iron vaporizing on the day side, then condensing on the night side to shower the planet. 

So this planet is so freaking hot to vaporize the iron. But that’s not enough. This planet still has other strange behavior links to extreme temperatures. For one, it causes the planet to swell up, increasing its volume to nearly six times that of Jupiter.

Not only this, most of the mineral-and-rock forming elements – which would otherwise remain hidden in the atmospheres of a colder gas-giant planet –, now begin to vaporize and reveal themselves in gaseous form. Just like steam coming from a hot cup of tea!

Using the Gemini North Telescope operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, an international team of astronomers detected 11 rock-forming elements in the atmosphere of  WASP-76b. Researchers found sodium, potassium, lithium, nickel, manganese, chromium, magnesium, vanadium, barium, calcium, and iron. The presence and relative amounts of these elements can provide key insights into exactly how giant gas planets form — something that remains uncertain even in our own Solar System

The amount of elements found in the exoplanet match both to that of its host star and our Sun. This confirms that unlike rocky planets,  gas-giant Jupiter and Saturn form quite like stars through mixing of gas and dust in the protoplanetary disc. While rocky planets like our Earth form from accretion and clash of dust, rocks and planetesimals.

The strangeness doesn’t end just yet. For the first time astronomers also found the presence of a very strange but significant molecule – vanadium oxide – on an exoplanet. This molecule plays a similar role to ozone being extremely efficient at heating Earth’s upper atmosphere 

With such an interesting chemical profile and plenty of important clues from WASP-76b, scientists can now explore how giant gas planets and planetary systems form in our own Solar System and elsewhere in the cosmos.

Cool Fact

Did you know that if temperatures were not too high, the elements detected by the researchers would normally form rocks like here on Earth? The gas giants in our Solar System also have similar chemical composition as that of WASP-76b. Because these planets are too cold for the elements to vaporize into the atmosphere, they remain trapped in it forever and are almost never detected in our Solar System.

Thank you for listening to the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast!

365 Days of Astronomy

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