SCIENTISTS have discovered a huge planet beyond the solar system with an upper atmosphere hot enough to boil IRON. An international team has identified glowing water molecules in the stratosphere of the exoplanet WASP-121b, which is 900 light years from Earth.
The radiation was in the form of infrared light indivisible to the human eye and was picked up by the Hubble Space Telescope.
WASP-121b is a “hot Jupiter” gas giant that is close to its parent star one of its years is the same length as 1.3 days on Earth.
The results showed the top of its atmosphere is heated to a blazing 2,500C (4,532F), the point at which iron exists as a gas rather than a solid.
Lead researcher Dr. Tom Evans, from the University of Exeter, said: “Theoretical models have suggested that stratospheres may define a special class of ultra-hot exoplanets, with important implications for the atmospheric physics and chemistry.
“When we pointed Hubble at WASP-121b, we saw glowing water molecules, implying that the planet has a strong stratosphere.”
Professor David Sing, co-author and Associate Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Exeter added: “This new research is the smoking gun evidence scientists have been searching for when studying hot exoplanets.
“We have discovered this hot Jupiter has a stratosphere, a common feature seen in most of our solar system planets.
“It’s a truly exciting find as we’re seeing dramatic differences planet-to-planet which is giving valuable clues in figuring out how planets behave under different conditions, and we’re only just scratching the surface of all the new Hubble data.”
The research is published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.