The Heaviest Element Ever Seen in an Exoplanet’s Atmosphere: Barium

This artist’s impression shows an ultra-hot exoplanet as it is about to transit in front of its host star. Using the ESPRESSO instrument of ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have found the heaviest element yet in an exoplanet's atmosphere, barium, in the two ultra-hot Jupiters WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b. Image Credit: ESO

Astronomers have spotted barium in the atmosphere of a distant exoplanet. With its 56 protons, you have to run your finger further down the periodic table than astronomers usually do to find barium. What does finding such a heavy element in an exoplanet atmosphere mean?

It means we’re still learning how strange exoplanets can be.

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An Exoplanet So Hot There Are 7 Different Kinds of Gaseous Metals in its Atmosphere

This artist's illustration shows an alien world that is losing magnesium and iron gas from its atmosphere. The observations represent the first time that so-called "heavy metals"—elements more massive than hydrogen and helium—have been detected escaping from a hot Jupiter, a large gaseous exoplanet orbiting very close to its star. The planet, known as WASP-121b, orbits a star brighter and hotter than the Sun. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Olmsted (STScI)

The search for exoplanets has revealed types of planets that are nothing like the worlds in our own Solar System. One such type is the hot-Jupiter. They’re gas giants like Jupiter that orbit their host star very closely. That proximity raises their temperatures to extreme heights.

Hot-Jupiters can be hot enough to vaporize metals, making their atmospheres un-Earthlike. A team of astronomers examining one exoplanet has found 7 different gaseous metals in its atmosphere.

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