Exoplanets exist beyond our solar system. Thousands have been discovered in the past two decades, mostly with NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. An observatory began working in 2009 and finished its mission last year. As of mid-March 2018, Kepler has discovered 2,342 confirmed exoplanets and revealed the existence of perhaps 2,245, others with a total of 3,706.
Today, the space agency has created the atmosphere of a superhot planet outside our solar system. The goal is to understand the conditions that might be embedded on the atmospheres and grasp the context of ‘exoplanets’ also known as ‘hot Jupiters.’
Researchers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California used a high-temperature oven to heat a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit or 1,100 Celsius to be exact. This experiment reflects the temperature of molten lava.
The aim is to simulate conditions that might be present in atmospheres of a type of exoplanets called hot Jupiters.
An exoplanet or extrasolar planet refers to a world in or relating to space outside the solar system while hot Jupiters are gas giants with orbits close to their parent stars, unlike the most planets in our solar system.
The team began the experiment with a preparation of a simple mixture of hydrogen and 0.3 percent carbon monoxide, and then eventually heated it to 330-1,230 Celsius. To complete the test, they exposed the mixture to a high dose of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This procedure allows researchers to evaluate the advantages humans can get out of these planets.
The tests published in the Astrophysical Journal revealed some new information about the possible alien atmospheres. While observations of the real planets have shown that their atmospheres are usually opaque, even at low pressures and clouds are not able to form, the team’s artificial atmosphere has the same result. The result came out showing that it also has an opaque characteristic due to the UV light forming organic aerosols. In other words, this exoplanet has the same atmosphere as that of Earth and other planets, a possibility of creating another world where humans can live.
The result may change the way scientists view about and interpret those hazy, hot Jupiter atmospheres, according to Benjamin Fleury, a JPL research assistant.
Now the group aims to study properties of these aerosols and how it could help humans in the future. In addition to its goal, NASA also wanted to understand how these aerosols form, absorb light and respond to changes in the environment whether it could be harmful to the said planet or has advantages.
Aside from understanding the condition of exoplanets, the study can also benefit astronomers. It can aid them to know what they see during observation entirely. The state of exoplanets remains a mystery to astronomers until today. With the recent research, Fleury said that it would guide astrophysicists and space scientists to create another study based on the findings they initially made.
The study also showed chemical reactions that produce significant amounts of carbon dioxide and water. According to Mark Swain, co-author of JPL exoplanet studies, he believed that the temperature dominates chemistry in these atmospheres but also found another factor that can be useful in future observations of these planets. They also need to look at how radiation plays a role in forming atmospheres and how it can change its form. Just like what we experience on our planet, the radiation also has an impact on the exoplanet.
These new results are immediately useful for interpreting what humans observe in hot Jupiter atmospheres and other planets. NASA is looking for a special kind of planet; one that’s the same size as Earth which orbits a sun-like star in the habitable zone. The habitable zone means that a planet’s temperature allows liquid water to form oceans, one that can be considered critical for life to exist just like Earth.
Before, the existence of these planets are just wishful thinking, and for years, astronomers are sure they’re out there. Thanks to NASA and other space explorations, the confirmation of its existence proves how determined humans to know life outside our planet. As of now, NASA is still developing further studies that will eventually lead to the development of an exoplanet that NASA dreams of having and could help humanities in the future.