Thursday, April 14, 2016

Gaseous Metals on an Ultra-Hot Gas Giant Planet

WASP-121b is an ultra-hot gas giant planet in a 1.3 day polar orbit around an F6V host star. It has 1.2 times the mass of Jupiter, and it is a highly inflated planet with 1.8 times the radius of Jupiter. The equilibrium temperature of WASP-121b is estimated to be 2,400 K. WASP-121b is a transiting planet, which means it periodically passes in front of its host star and obscures some of its host star's light. Recent transit observations show that the planet appears larger when observed in optical wavelengths than when it is observed in near-infrared wavelengths.

Something high in the planet's atmosphere is absorbing optical radiation, causing the planet to appear larger when observed in optical wavelengths. This has been interpreted as evidence for the presence of titanium oxide (TiO) and vanadium oxide (VO) in the upper atmosphere. TiO and VO are strong absorbers of radiation, especially in optical wavelengths. The presence of TiO and VO should have a significant effect on the atmosphere of WASP-121b as they are expected to generate a strong thermal inversion. Basically a thermal inversion is a layer of hot air overlying a layer of cooler air. The lower density of the hot air prevents the cooler air below from rising.

Evans et al. (2016), "Detection of H2O and evidence for TiO/VO in an ultra hot exoplanet atmosphere", arXiv:1604.02310 [astro-ph.EP]