A team of European researchers has discovered an ultra-hot planet at a distance of 650 light years from the Earth, which has an atmosphere of vaporized iron and titanium, with the surface temperature close to that of the Sun. The planet, known as KELT-9b, is typically of the class of ultra-hot Jupiters and has an equilibrium temperature of 3,770 degree Celsius. This is the first time that a planet’s atmosphere has been found to contain such heavy metals. The planet, which was spotted by researchers last year for the first time, may now attract even greater attention and curiosity from researchers, after this discovery.
The extreme heat prevalent on the planet enabled the researchers to detect titanium and iron atoms as stand-alone, rather than bound up in molecules. Researcher Kevin Heng stated that iron and titanium have long been theorized as important components in the formation of exoplanets; however, they had never been directly detected, which was possible this time, when the research team examined light from this planet when it crossed its star. The heavy metals in its atmosphere were spotted through fluctuations seen in the spectral data. The technique used to detect these metals can be used also in the future for searching bio-signatures, which provide evidence of life on the planets. However, signs of life will be difficult to obtain from this planet, as it is in close proximity to its star, which is two times as hot as the Sun as well as two and half times bigger. The trajectory of the planet is also peculiar, and it is likely to be absorbed by its star in due time.
Meanwhile, an experimental CubeSat has been making waves for quite some time, with it being recently awarded the Small Satellite Mission of the Year. The Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics (ASTERIA) has been designed to demonstrate that small satellites can hunt for satellites just as larger ones such as Kepler can. The ASTERIA was built in collaboration between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and MIT. The CubeSat measures 3.9×7.8×11.8 inches. It was sent on the CRS-12 mission on 14th August last year and was deployed from the station in November 2017. The satellite is currently on an extended mission to determine its software and hardware viability.