May 22, 2024

Researchers may have seen the first extrasolar planetary flare

A team of researchers with participation from Austria has likely observed for the first time an optical phenomenon called the “glow of glory” outside our solar system. The location of the phenomenon identified by the European Space Agency's CHEOPS satellite is the exoplanet WASP-76b, an “extremely hot gas giant” about 637 light-years from Earth. “Glory” is a distinct scattering of light that resembles a halo.

In order to observe such a phenomenon, several requirements are needed: In addition to the correct distance between the light source, the medium that characteristically scatters it, and the observer, “you need atmospheric particles that are almost perfectly spherical and completely uniform.” Astronomy: “Stable enough that it can be observed over a long period of time. The star close to the planet should shine directly on it, with the observer – here Cubes – in exactly the right direction.” and Astrophysics, Olivier Demangione of the Institute of Astrophysics and Space Sciences in Porto (Portugal).

While the phenomenon can be observed many times on Earth, according to a statement from the European Space Agency (ESA), it has only been detected once on Venus outside our home planet. In the data from the Characterization of Exoplanet Satellite (CHEOPS) and other ESA and NASA missions, scientists, including Wolfgang Baumjohann and Luca Fossati from the Institute for Space Research (IWF) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) in Graz or… Astronomer Manuel Godel of the University of Vienna says the first strong signs of the impact are now very far away.

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WASP-76b – a gas giant similar to Jupiter – will likely experience extreme conditions with intense heat and possibly a rain of molten iron. It orbits relatively closely around its parent star. So the side facing the sun has temperatures of up to 2,400 degrees Celsius, according to estimates by scientists who have been studying outdoor plants for about a decade.

So far, 23 observations have been made over three years, with an increase in the amount of light occurring at the boundary of day and night in the east of the strange planet, according to a statement issued by the International Monetary Fund on Friday. Data analyzes using cloud and atmospheric models from the Graz Institute, among others, confirmed suspicions that we are dealing with a rainbow-like “glory” phenomenon.

Conversely, there should be very consistent clouds and consistent exoplanetary weather as well. The fact that such phenomena can be observed far away also fuels the hope that in the future we will be able to discover more about exoplanetary atmospheres, such as reflections from lakes or oceans, and thus about the presence of water.

However, researchers cannot yet determine whether this is actually the “glory” of WASP-76b. They want to point other instruments, like the James Webb Telescope, at the planet to learn more.

This is also the goal of the European Space Agency's Ariel mission scheduled to launch in 2029. The project, which will allow “to determine the composition of exoplanetary atmospheres for the first time on a broad statistical basis,” is scientifically managed by Austrian researcher Theresa Loftinger. The former employee of the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of Vienna now works at the European Space Agency and served as an outside expert on the new analyzes surrounding WASP-76b, as she explained to APA: “Additional evidence is still needed so that we can conclusively explain ‘that this’ light Extra “Great is indeed a rare glory,” Loftinger was quoted as saying on the broadcast.

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(Service – Online Publishing: https://www.aanda.org/10.1051/0004-6361/202348270; Information about Ariel's mission: https://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Space_Science/Ariel_factsheet)