The Atmosphere of Exoplanet WASP-19b Has Titanium Oxide, Suggests New Study


September 14, 2017

An international team of researchers claims to have detected small amounts of titanium oxide in the atmosphere of WASP-19b exoplanet. According to researchers, this exoplanet is located about 815 light years away from Earth and has a mass similar to that of Jupiter. The distance between this bizarre planet and its host star is so small that it completes one revolution around its star in just 19 hours.

The new study was carried out under the guidance of Elyar Sedaghati, a graduate of the Technical University of Berlin and a fellow at European Southern Observatory. Sedaghati has spent about two years in analysis of WASP-19b exoplanet. The team used the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to analyze the atmosphere of the exoplanet in greater detail. VLT is the world’s most advanced and highly sophisticated optical instrument installed in Chile’s Atacama Desert. It consists of four Unit Telescopes and four movable Auxiliary Telescopes. All these telescopes can work in tandem to allow researchers see much finer details compared to those observed with the individual telescopes.

The Phy.org reveals that when WASP-19b passes between Earth and its host star, the interaction between starlight and planet’s atmosphere leaves fine fingerprints about the atmosphere of WASP-19b in the starlight. This light, which eventually arrives at Earth, was carefully examined by the team to reveal that the atmosphere of WASP-1b contains small amounts of titanium oxide as well as sodium and water.

Titanium oxide is a compound that is rarely found on Earth. Generally, it is obtained from mineral such as anatase, ilmenite, rutile, and brookite, and is used in a variety of products, including paints, varnishes, food coloring, plastics, printing inks, and cosmetic products. Past astronomical studies have also suggested that this compound exists in the atmosphere of cool stars. Titanium oxide, if present in large quantities, also prevents entry and escape of heat from the atmosphere of a planet.

The Popular Mechanics explains that large amount of titanium oxide present in the atmosphere of WASP-1b acts as a heat absorber. The same compound, however, also acts as insulator, preventing entry or escape of the heat through the atmosphere. This thermal inversion causes the upper atmosphere of the WASP-1b to become much hotter than its lower atmosphere. Astronomers estimate the atmospheric temperature of WASP-1b to be around 2000 degree Celsius.

Elyar Sedaghati reveals that his team carried out the analysis using an algorithm, which allowed them to explore millions of spectra covering a range of temperatures and chemical compositions. The team thinks their findings would help develop new mathematical models to better understand the atmospheres of several other exoplanets in future.

The detailed findings of the study were published in journal Nature.

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