A Nasa-led team of astronomers has found a mysterious exoplanet that is so unusual it challenges many classic perceptions about distant worlds. The celestial body — known as WASP-18b — sits 325 light-years away from Earth, has 10 times the mass of Jupiter, and is surrounded by an atmosphere of carbon monoxide. It also has no water and is extremely hot.
Those conditions make it extremely hostile to life as we know it. However, what makes the world so interesting is that it is the first time researchers have recorded an upper atmosphere filled with carbon monoxide.
“The composition of WASP-18b defies all expectations,” said lead Kyle Sheppard, a researcher at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, according to International Business Times UK. “We don’t know of any other extrasolar planet where carbon monoxide so completely dominates the upper atmosphere.”
WASP-18b is classified as a “hot Jupiter,” meaning it is a gaseous giant that it is close orbit to its host star. The team analyzed the world by looking at observations made by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. That showed, beyond the carbon monoxide, the planet’s atmosphere likely contains 300 times more metals than other such worlds.
The new finding could rewrite what scientists thought they knew about how atmospheres form around planets. That is because the combination of factors noted in the study provides insight into the physical and chemical processes in exoplanetary atmospheres.
This study reveals that there is a lot more of the universe to be discovered, and a lot more to understand. Researchers hope to the James Webb Telescope, which is set to launch in 2019, will provide them a closer look at strange and interesting exoplanets.
“The expected launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and other future space-based observatories will give us the opportunity to follow up with even more powerful instruments and to continue exploring the amazing array of exoplanets out there,” said study co-author Avi Mandell, an exoplanet scientist at Goddard, in a statement.
The research was published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.