Webb Explains a Puffy Planet

WASP-107 b

I love the concept of a ‘puffy’ planet! The exoplanets discovered that fall into this category are typically the same size of Jupiter but 1/10th the mass! They tend to orbit their host star at close in orbits and are hot but one has been found that is different from the normal. This Neptune-mass exoplanet has been thought to be cooler but still have a lower density. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has recently discovered that tidal energy from its elliptical orbit keeps its interior churning and puffs it out. 

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Maybe Ultra-Hot Jupiters Aren’t So Doomed After All

Artist's impression of an ultra-hot Jupiter. (Credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon)

Ultra-hot Jupiters (UHJs) are some of the most fascinating astronomical objects in the cosmos, classified as having orbital periods of less than approximately 3 days with dayside temperatures exceeding 1,930 degrees Celsius (3,500 degrees Fahrenheit), as most are tidally locked with their parent stars. But will these extremely close orbits result in orbital decay for UHJs eventually doom them to being swallowed by their star, or can some orbit for the long term without worry? This is what a recent study accepted to the Planetary Science Journal hopes to address as a team of international researchers investigated potential orbital decays for several UHJs, which holds the potential to not only help astronomers better understand UHJs but also the formation and evolution of exoplanets, overall.

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Saturn-Sized Exoplanet Isn’t Losing Mass Quickly Enough

Pablo Carlos Budassi - Own work. Simulated view of a mini-Neptune or "gas dwarf"

We have discovered over 5,000 planets around other star systems. Amongst the veritable cosmic menagerie of exoplanets, it seems there is a real shortage of Neptune-sized planets close to their star. A new paper just published discusses a Saturn-sized planet close to its host star which should be experiencing mass loss, but isn’t. Studying this world offers a new insight into exoplanet formation across the Universe. 

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Astronomers Try to Directly Observe Epsilon Eridani b. No Luck. Maybe Webb Can Find it?

Direct imaging of Epsilon Eridani

Back in the year 2000, Epsilon Eridani b was discovered. It is a Jupiter-like exoplanet 10.5 light years away but it has taken decades of observations to learn more about the planet. One thing that remains a mystery is it’s orbit which, until recently has been unknown. There has never been a direct image of the planet either, so now, it’s the turn of JWST to see what it can do. 

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Measuring Exoplanetary Magnetospheres with the Square Kilometer Array

Earth's magnetosphere

Life on Earth would not be possible without food, water, light, a breathable atmosphere and surprisingly, a magnetic field. Without it, Earth, and its inhabitants would be subjected to the harmful radiation from space making life here, impossible. If we find exoplanets with similar magnetospheres then those worlds may well be habitable. The Square Kilometer Array (SKA) which is still under construction should be able to detect such magnetospheres from radio emissions giving us real insight into our exoplanet cousins. 

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TESS Finds its First Rogue Planet

This illustration shows a rogue planet traveling through space. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (Caltech-IPAC)

Well over 5,000 planets have been found orbiting other star systems. One of the satellites hunting for them is TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. Astronomers using TESS think they are made a rather surprising discovery; their first free-floating – or rogue – planet. The planet was discovered using gravitational microlensing where the planet passed in front of a star, distorting its light and revealing its presence.

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Radiating Exoplanet Discovered in “Perfect Tidal Storm”

Artist’s illustration of HD 104067 b, which is the outermost exoplanet in the HD 104067 system, and responsible for potentially causing massive tidal energy on the innermost exoplanet candidate, TOI-6713.01. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Can tidal forces cause an exoplanet’s surface to radiate heat? This is what a recent study accepted to The Astronomical Journal hopes to address as a team of international researchers used data collected from ground-based instruments to confirm the existence of a second exoplanet residing within the exoplanetary system, HD 104067, along with using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission to identify an additional exoplanet candidate, as well. What’s unique about this exoplanet candidate, which orbits innermost compared to the other two, is that the tidal forces exhibited from the outer two exoplanets are potentially causing the candidates’ surface to radiate with its surface temperature reaching as high as 2,300 degrees Celsius (4,200 degrees Fahrenheit), which the researchers refer to as a “perfect tidal storm”.

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The Search for the Perfect Coronagraph to Find Earth 2.0

Coronagraph allowing the direct imaging of exoplanets

Studying exoplanets is made more difficult by the light from the host star. Coronagraphs are devices that block out the star light and both JWST and Nancy Grace Roman Telescope are equipped with them. Current coronagraphs are not quite capable of seeing other Earths but work is underway to push the limits of technology and even science for a new, more advanced device. A new paper explores the quantum techniques that may one day allow us to make such observations. 

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If Hycean Worlds Really Exist, What are Their Oceans Like?

Artist's impression of possible hycean world K2-18 b. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI)

Astronomers have been on the hunt for a new kind of exoplanet in recent years – one especially suited for habitability. They’re called hycean worlds, and they’re characterized by vast liquid water oceans and thick hydrogen-rich atmospheres. The name was coined in 2021 by Cambridge astronomer Nikku Madhusudhan, whose team got a close-up look at one possible hycean world, K2-18b, using the James Webb Space Telescope in 2023. In a newly accepted paper this January, Madhusudhan and coauthor Frances Rigby examined what the internal structure of hycean planets might look like, and what that means for the possibility of finding life within.

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Water Vapor Found in the Atmosphere of a Small Exoplanet

Artist's impression of GJ 9827 d, which is the smallest exoplanet ever found to potentially possess water in its atmosphere. (Credit: NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak and Ralf Crawford (STScI))

A recent study published in The Astrophysucal Journal Letters discusses the detection of water within the atmosphere of GJ 9827 d, which is a Neptune-like exoplanet located approximately 97 light-years from Earth, using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and is the smallest exoplanet to date where water has been detected in its atmosphere. This study was conducted by an international team of researchers and holds the potential to identify exoplanets throughout the Milky Way Galaxy which possess water within their atmospheres, along with highlighting the most accurate methods to identify the water, as well.

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