The scientists from the University of Cambridge and the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) in Spain, observed the exoplanet WASP-127b using the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC). “A giant gaseous planet with partly clear skies and strong signatures of metals in its atmosphere” describes phys.org. The results have been acknowledged for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.
Having the only 20% of Jupiter’s mass, WASP-127b has a radius 1.4 times larger than Jupiter. Such a planet has no analogue in our solar system and is “rare even within the thousands of exoplanets discovered to date”.
The astronomers have revealed the presence of a large concentration of alkali metals in WASP-127b’s atmosphere, allowing simultaneous detections of sodium, potassium and lithium in an exoplanet for the first time. “The sodium and potassium absorptions are very broad, which is characteristic of relatively clear atmospheres. According to modelling work done by the researchers, the skies of WASP-127b are approximately 50% clear” (phys.org).
“The particular characteristics of this planet allowed us to perform a detailed study of its rich atmospheric composition,” said Dr Guo Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at IAC and the study’s first author. “The presence of lithium is important to understand the evolutionary history of the planetary system and could shed light on the mechanisms of planet formation.”
And also it was found some possible signs of water. “While this detection is not statistically significant, as water features are weak in the visible range, our data indicate that additional observations in the near-infrared should be able to detect it,” said co-author Enric Pallé, also from IAC.
The results show the potential of ground-based telescopes for the study of planetary atmospheres. “The detection of a trace element such as lithium in a planetary atmosphere is a major breakthrough and motivates new follow-up observations and detailed theoretical modelling to corroborate the findings,” said co-author Dr Nikku Madhusudhan, from Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.