WASP-189b: an exoplanet with a unique atmosphere

A research team from Lund University succeeded in mapping the atmosphere of WASP-189b, an exoplanet located 322 lightyears from Earth.

The exoplanet was first observed in 2020 by the CHEOPS satellite, and ever since it has been a subject of interest for astronomers.

In a novel study published in Nature Astronomy, new facts have emerged concerning the fiery gas giant.

How did the team map this data on WASP-189b?

Researchers utilised high-resolution spectroscopy to successfully map the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-189b. This allowed scientists to gain valuable knowledge regarding the hot gas surrounding the Jupiter-like planet, which is important for the understanding of all Earth-like planets.

What have scientists discovered about this new exoplanet?

WASP-189b is a planet outside of Earth’s solar system with a dayside temperature of 3,200°C. The planet is very close to its host star, with a year that lasts for 2.7 days, which is the time taken for the planet to orbit the star. WASP-189b is perhaps the most extreme of the approximate 4,300 exoplanets that have been discovered so far.

“We used a high-resolution spectrograph to collect star light from the host star, at a time when the light also passed the exoplanet’s gas envelope. After extracting the relevant parts of the spectrum, we were able to link at least nine variants of known substances to the atmosphere of WASP-189b,” explained Bibiana Prinoth, leader of the study, and doctoral student in astronomy at Lund University.

Arguably the greatest discovery from the investigation is that WASP-189b’s atmosphere contains titanium oxide, which until now could not be detected with certainty in the atmosphere of an ultra-hot gas giant. As well as this, the researchers found various other elements such as, iron, titanium, chromium, vanadium, magnesium, and manganese.

However, it is not just the discovery of WASP-189b’s atmosphere that researchers considered to be scientifically important; by studying the so-called line positions for each element in the atmosphere, the researchers were able to observe that these varied. This demonstrated that WASP-189b has a layered type of atmosphere where in which three-dimensional chemistry, thermal effects, and dynamics in the form of winds, play an important role.

“In the past, it has only been possible to analyse the atmospheres of this type of exoplanet with one-dimensional models. In our study, we pave the way for using high-resolution spectrographs to gain a much deeper understanding of exoplanet atmospheres,” said Bibiana Prinoth.

How will these results help future investigations?

Scientists have often encountered issues when characterising the atmosphere of exoplanets, which has become an important area of ​​research in astronomy and astrophysics. Now that the technical tools are in place, it will be feasible for scientists to compare the chemical composition in different types of exoplanet atmospheres in detail, even when it comes to cooler celestial bodies that are more similar to our own planet.

“I am often asked if I think my research is relevant to the search for life elsewhere in the universe. My answer is always yes. This type of study is a first step in this search,” concluded Bibiana Prinoth.

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