An Exoplanet with a Potassium-Rich Atmosphere

March 4, 2011
An image of Jupiter next to a artist's conception of the exoplanet XO-2b. Scientists have discovered that the atmosphere of XO-2b contains potassium. Credit: Ignacio González Tapia

(PhysOrg.com) -- A hot Jupiter - a type of celestial object unknown only fifteen years ago - is a Jupiter-sized exoplanet orbiting so close to its host star that its atmospheric temperature is thought to be hundreds of degrees Celsius.

When a hot is seen in a transiting system, its passage across the face of the star provides an opportunity to study its atmosphere, as light from the star passes through the thin layer on route to Earth.

The atmospheres of two hot Jupiters have been studied so far, with sodium (but only sodium) detected.

The constituents and their properties are interesting in and of themselves, and also shed light on global parameters of the planet such as , thermal inversion layers, and the possible presence of clouds.

CfA Jean-Michel Desert has teamed up with ten colleagues to use the 10.4-meter telescope in the Canary Islands to study the atmospheres of transiting hot Jupiters.

The astronomers have just announced their results on the object known as XO-2b, a hot Jupiter whose radius is the same as Jupiter's, whose mass is about half, and which orbits its star in only 2.6 days.

They discovered that the atmosphere contains potassium, one of the elements that had been predicted to exist in current models but which had not been seen in the other two cases.

The new results help to substantiate and improve the current theory of exoplanetary atmospheres, and illustrate the dramatic advances underway in detecting and modeling the atmospheres around strange distant worlds that were unknown not long ago.

Explore further: COROT's exoplanet hunt update

Related Stories

COROT's exoplanet hunt update

May 22, 2008

Two new exoplanets and an unknown celestial object are the latest findings of the COROT mission. These discoveries mean that the mission has now found a total of four new exoplanets.

Exoplanet atmospheres detected from Earth for the first time

January 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Transiting exoplanets are routinely detected when they pass in front of their parent star as viewed from the Earth, which only happens by chance. The transit event causes a small drop in the observed starlight, ...

First temperate exoplanet sized up (w/ Video)

March 17, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Combining observations from the CoRoT satellite and the ESO HARPS instrument, astronomers have discovered the first “normal” exoplanet that can be studied in great detail. Designated Corot-9b, the planet ...

Superhot Planet Likely Possesses Comet-like Tail

July 15, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- As if the debate over what is and what is not a planet hasn't gotten confusing enough, Hubble Space Telescope astronomers have now confirmed the existence of a tortured, baked object that could be called ...

X-Ray observations of an extrasolar planetary system

October 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The majority of extra-solar planets (about 278 of them) are more massive than Jupiter. About 20% of this majority group orbit their stars at a distances of less than one-tenth of an astronomical unit (one ...

Recommended for you

'Bathtub rings' suggest Titan's dynamic seas

July 28, 2015

Saturn's moon, Titan, is the only object in the Solar System other than Earth known to have liquid on its surface. While most of the lakes are found around the poles, the dry regions near the equator contain signs of evaporated ...

Born-again planetary nebula

July 28, 2015

Beneath the vivid hues of this eye-shaped cloud, named Abell 78, a tale of stellar life and death is unfolding. At the centre of the nebula, a dying star – not unlike our Sun – which shed its outer layers on its way to ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1.7 / 5 (3) Mar 05, 2011
Congratulations!

Potassium [K, element #19] is not an abundant element.

In 1917 Harkins* reported that seven elements with even atomic numbers (Fe, O, Ni, Si, Mg, S and Ca) comprise 99% of the material in ordinary meteorites.

He correctly concluded ... in the evolution of elements much more material has gone into the even-numbered elements than into those which are odd... [Harkins, p. 869].

*Harkins, W. D. The evolution of the elements and the stability of complex atoms, Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 39, 1917, pp. 856-879.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
Thecis
not rated yet Mar 07, 2011
It might just be me. When H goes to He, the number becomes even... When more He-atoms are combined, it will always resume to be even numbers. Might this not just be the explanation?
omatumr
1 / 5 (2) Mar 08, 2011
It might just be me. When H goes to He, the number becomes even... When more He-atoms are combined, it will always resume to be even numbers. Might this not just be the explanation?


Yes, He-fusion produced C-12, O-16, Ne-20, Mg-24, Si-28, S-32, Ar-36 etc.

These elements with even atomic numbers (6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18) generally have greater nuclear stability and more isotopes than elements with odd atomic number (e.g., 7, 9, 11, 13, 15 and 17) for N, F, Na, Al, P, and Cl.

This subject is discussed in more detail here [1,2]:

1. "Why the model of a a Hydrogen-filled Sun is obsolete"

arxiv.org/pdf/astro-ph/0410569v1

2. "Neutron Repulsion," The APEIRON Journal in press (2011), 19 pages

arxiv.org/pdf/1102.1499v1

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.