The James Webb Space Telescope has discovered the presence of water vapor, sulfur dioxide and even sand clouds in the atmosphere of Wasp-107bone of the least dense alien planets known, so much so that it has been nicknamed “the planet of cotton candy”.
AND’ the first time that the composition of the clouds of a planet outside the Solar System has been precisely identified, in this case silicate particles which denote a particularly dynamic atmosphere capable of transporting materials. The results of the study, which increase our understanding of the formation and evolution of planets, are published in Nature by a group of European astronomers led by the University of Louvain in Belgium.
Wasp-107b is a gaseous exoplanet that orbits a star slightly cooler and less massive than our Sun. The mass of the planet is similar to that of Neptune, but its size is larger, almost comparable to that of Jupiter. This feature makes Wasp-107b rather ‘soft’ when compared to the gas giant planets of our Solar System. The exoplanet’s softness allows astronomers to look about 50 times deeper into its atmosphere than the exploration depth achieved for a giant like Jupiter.
From observations made with the Miri instrument of the Webb telescope (managed by the space agencies of the United States, Europe and Canada), it emerged that There is no methane in the atmosphere of Wasp-107b and from this astronomers have deduced that the interior of the planet could be hot.
The unexpected discovery of sulfur dioxide suggests that the light from the parent star is able to reach the deepest layers of the atmosphere, triggering the chemical reactions necessary to produce the gas. “Webb is revolutionizing the characterization of exoplanets, providing unprecedented information at a remarkable speed,” says the first author of the study, Leen Decin. «The discovery of clouds of sand, water and sulfur dioxide on this soft exoplanet is a milestone. It reshapes our understanding of planetary formation and evolution, shedding new light on our Solar System.”