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Meet WASP-121b, a hot ‘heavy metal’ exoplanet

18 Aug 2019, 12:00 UTC
Meet WASP-121b, a hot ‘heavy metal’ exoplanet
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Artist’s concept of WASP-121b, which orbits so close to its star and is so hot that heavy metal gases in its atmosphere are escaping into space. Image via Engine House VFX/At-Bristol Science Centre/University of Exeter/JPL.
Exoplanets – worlds orbiting other stars – have been discovered in a wide variety of types and sizes, from small rocky worlds to sizzling hot gas giants orbiting close to their stars. The phrase “music of the spheres” comes to mind, an ancient philosophical concept that regarded the movements of the sun, moon and planets as a form of music. While that phrase tends to evoke thoughts of classical melodies, one exoplanet in particular seems to fit the heavy metal genre better.
The planet – WASP-121b, a hot Jupiter 900 light-years from Earth – orbits so close to its star that its upper atmosphere is a sizzling 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,500 Celsius). The gravity of its host star has distorted the planet into the oblong shape of an American football. First discovered in 2015, the planet is 1.8 times the mass of Jupiter.
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) detected gas escaping from the planet, iron and magnesium gas, dubbed “heavy metals.” These new peer-reviewed results ...

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