A peculiar gas-giant planet orbiting a sun-like star 1200 light-years away is the first carbon-rich world ever observed.
The implications are big for planetary chemistry, because without much oxygen, common rocks throughout the planet would be made of pure carbon, in forms such as diamonds or graphite.
"On most planets, oxygen is abundant. It makes rocks such as quartz and gases such as carbon dioxide," said University of Central Florida professor Joseph Harrington, one of the study's lead researchers. "With more carbon than oxygen, you would get rocks of pure carbon, such as diamond or graphite, and lots of methane gas."
"This planet tells us that there are many other strange worlds out there, beyond even the imaginations of the people doing the science," added Nikku Madhusudhan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the lead author of the study, which appears in the Dec. 9 issue of the journal Nature.
Harrington and his team at UCF led the Spitzer observations and data analysis. The UCF team used NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to measure the light of the planet, WASP-12b, as it passed behind its star, a so-called secondary eclipse.
Madhusudhan performed the chemical analysis of data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. By using UCF's data and other published results at different infrared wavelengths, he compared the infrared behavior of common gases to determine the composition of the planet's atmosphere. Researchers were surprised to find methane, a trace gas on Earth, because it typically does not exist in the searing-hot temperatures found on this planet.
Carbon is a key building block of life, but could life exist if there is too much carbon? NASA's recent announcement of a bacterium that thrives in a poisonous arsenic environment is yet another example of life's incredible adaptability.
"I wouldn't discount any cool planet as a possible haven for life, no matter what its chemistry," Harrington said.
WASP-12b isn't cool enough for life. It is so close to its star that its "year" is just 26 hours, and its daytime temperatures of about 4700 degrees Fahrenheit make it the second-hottest planet ever measured. It is also the second-largest known planet, as it is more than 80 percent wider than Jupiter.
The planet was discovered last year by a UK consortium, the Wide Angle Search for Planets. Some of the Spitzer data used by the UCF team were contributed by WASP team member Peter Wheatley of the University of Warwick.
Other authors of the paper are Kevin Stevenson, Sarah Nymeyer, Christopher Campo, Jasmina Blecic, Ryan Hardy, Nate Lust, Christopher Britt and William Bowman of the University of Central Florida; Drake Deming of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; David Anderson, Coel Hellier and Pierre Maxted of Keele University, United Kingdom; Andrew Collier-Cameron of the University of St. Andrews, United Kingdom; Leslie Hebb of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.; Don Pollacco of Queen's University, United Kingdom; and Richard West of the University of Leicester, United Kingdom.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
For more information about Spitzer, visit http://spitzer.caltech.edu or http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer. More information about NASA's search for exoplanets is at http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov.
Midwife and signpost for photons
11.12.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
New research identifies how 3-D printed metals can be both strong and ductile
11.12.2017 | University of Birmingham
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications
Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...
Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.
The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
11.12.2017 | Earth Sciences
11.12.2017 | Information Technology