On this superhot exoplanet — a real “iron curtain” in place of the sky

For the first time in history astronomers have discovered iron and titanium in the atmosphere of a planet outside the Solar system. This exoplanet — KELT-9b — is the hot alien world of all that we have ever found. The planet is so hot that its temperature is higher even than most stars. Hot exoplanet located about 620 light years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus — the astronomers call them “sverhdorogimi Jupiter”. KELT-9b — a giant gaseous world like Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar system. However, its weight three times more than Jupiter, with a diameter of two times, and the orbit is located very close to the parent star of the exoplanet, KELT-9.


“Vergaray Jupiter” is the informal term for hot exoplanets like Jupiter, the temperature of which exceeds 1700 degrees Celsius. “They are so hot that they have certain similarities with the stars, but are the planets,” said Kevin Hyun, an astrophysicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland. KELT-9b can reach temperatures of 4300 degrees.

A hot planet

This is a record heat have allowed astronomers to detect the iron and titanium in the atmosphere of KELT-9b. Although scientists have long suspected that these elements are present in some exoplanets, iron is one of the most common elements in the Universe — they are hard to detect in a cool environment, because atoms are mostly “trapped in other molecules,” says Hyun. But KELT-9b so hot that the clouds are not congenerous in its atmosphere, allowing individual atoms of iron and other metals to fly separately.

Titan was seen in the atmosphere of exoplanets before — but not in atomic form. In September 2017 astronomers working with the space telescope Hubble announced that he had discovered the titanium dioxide is in the atmosphere of the exoplanet Kepler-13A.

Astronomers can detect different elements, studying the spectrum of light coming from object in space. Because the exoplanet doesn’t emit its own light, Chen and his team of researchers studied data the telescope collected during a solar transit when the exoplanet passed in front of its star.

Conveniently, the data already existed before Hyun and his coauthors decided to do this study. After his colleagues at the University of Geneva used the spectral data to find hydrogen in the atmosphere of KELT-9b, “they’re actually stored data in the drawer, because there was no reason to look for iron or titanium,” says Hyun. “Then, a few months ago, we conducted a theoretical study that predicted that iron and titanium must be there, and it motivated us to search.”

Using data a year ago from the National Galileo telescope in La Palma, Spain, scientists began to hunt for metals in the spectrum of light that shined through the atmosphere of KELT-9b during the 5-hour transit. The data were collected using the HARPS spectrograph.

“Different atoms and molecules exhibit different signatures, when you split light into a spectrum,” says Hyun. “With enough resolution, enough data, it is possible to provide each molecule with a unique signature.” The search of signatures of iron and titanium, elements that, according to Hyun and his team should be in the atmosphere of KELT-9b — will require a “combination of powerful computing, a thorough study of spectroscopic databases and meticulous collection of details,” wrote Hyung.

Team Hyun appealed to Simon Grimm, astrophysics from the University of Bern, a specialist in the calculations of the opacity of atoms and molecules. “These opacity is not easy to calculate, because we need to evaluate the strength and shape of millions and billions of spectral lines”.

Previous studies which conducted a search of hydrogen in the atmosphere of KELT-9b, saw the strong lines of absorption of hydrogen in the spectrum, without any complicated cross-correlation analyses to find iron and titanium, in contrast to studies of hen. The astronomers who collected the data for the search of hydrogen had no theoretical motivation for a serious search of metals like iron.

Another study published July 2 in the journal Nature Astronomy showed that hydrogen actually “boiling” of the atmosphere of KELT-9b and sucked the parent star of the planet. “Maybe heavy metal also escapes due to the fact that a strong escape of hydrogen “tighten” the heavy elements in the upper layers of the atmosphere,” says FEI Yang from the Institute of astronomy of max Planck, the study’s lead author.

While iron and titanium in the atmosphere of KELT-9b was an important discovery, Hyun said that the technique itself interesting discoveries. Because the same method will be used for detection of biosignature. However, it is unlikely that astronomers will find any signs of life on this hellish planet.

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