Ad
Ad
Ad
Tag

stars

Browsing

Hubble sees new atmosphere forming on a rocky exoplanet, GJ 1132 b

The planet GJ 1132 b appears to have begun life as a gaseous world with a thick blanket of atmosphere. Starting out at several times the radius of Earth, this so-called “sub-Neptune” quickly lost its primordial hydrogen and helium atmosphere, which was stripped away by the intense radiation from its hot, young star. In a short period of time, it was reduced to a bare core about the size of Earth.

GJ 1132 b
This image is an artist’s impression of the exoplanet GJ 1132 b. For the first time, scientists using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have found evidence of volcanic activity reforming the atmosphere on this rocky planet, which has a similar density, size, and age to that of Earth. To the surprise of astronomers, new observations from Hubble have uncovered a second atmosphere that has replaced the planet’s first atmosphere. It is rich in hydrogen, hydrogen cyanide, methane and ammonia, and also has a hydrocarbon haze. Astronomers theorise that hydrogen from the original atmosphere was absorbed into the planet’s molten magma mantle and is now being slowly released by volcanism to form a new atmosphere. This second atmosphere, which continues to leak away into space, is continually being replenished from the reservoir of hydrogen in the mantle’s magma. Credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Hurt (IPAC/Caltech), CC BY 4.0

To the surprise of astronomers, new observations from Hubble [1] have uncovered a secondary atmosphere that has replaced the planet’s first atmosphere. It is rich in hydrogen, hydrogen cyanide, methane and ammonia, and also has a hydrocarbon haze. Astronomers theorise that hydrogen from the original atmosphere was absorbed into the planet’s molten magma mantle and is now being slowly released by volcanism to form a new atmosphere. This second atmosphere, which continues to leak away into space, is continually being replenished from the reservoir of hydrogen in the mantle’s magma.

“This second atmosphere comes from the surface and interior of the planet, and so it is a window onto the geology of another world,” explained team member Paul Rimmer of the University of Cambridge, UK. “A lot more work needs to be done to properly look through it, but the discovery of this window is of great importance.”

Pictured here is the region around the host star of the exoplanet GJ 1132 b. Credit:
ESA/Hubble, Digitized Sky Survey 2, CC BY 4.0.
Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin

“We first thought that these highly radiated planets would be pretty boring because we believed that they lost their atmospheres,” said team member Raissa Estrela of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, USA. But we looked at existing observations of this planet with Hubble and realised that there is an atmosphere there.”

“How many terrestrial planets don’t begin as terrestrials? Some may start as sub-Neptunes, and they become terrestrials through a mechanism whereby light evaporates the primordial atmosphere. This process works early in a planet’s life, when the star is hotter,” said team leader Mark Swain of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Then the star cools down and the planet’s just sitting there. So you’ve got this mechanism that can cook off the atmosphere in the first 100 million years, and then things settle down. And if you can regenerate the atmosphere, maybe you can keep it.”

In some ways, GJ 1132 b has various parallels to Earth, but in some ways it is also very different. Both have similar densities, similar sizes, and similar ages, being about 4.5 billion years old. Both started with a hydrogen-dominated atmosphere, and both were hot before they cooled down. The team’s work even suggests that GJ 1132 b and Earth have similar atmospheric pressure at the surface.

This plot shows the spectrum of the atmosphere of an Earth sized rocky exoplanet, GJ 1132 b, which is overlaid on an artist’s impression of the planet. The orange line represents the model spectrum. In comparison, the observed spectrum is shown as blue dots representing averaged data points, along with their error bars.  This analysis is consistent with GJ 1132 b being predominantly a hydrogen atmosphere with a mix of methane and hydrogen cyanide. The planet also has aerosols which cause scattering of light.  This is the first time a so-called “secondary atmosphere,” which was replenished after the planet lost its primordial atmosphere, has been detected on a world outside of our solar system. Credit:
NASA, ESA, and P. Jeffries (STScI)

However, the planets’ formation histories are profoundly different. Earth is not believed to be the surviving core of a sub-Neptune. And Earth orbits at a comfortable distance from our yellow dwarf Sun. GJ 1132 b is so close to its host red dwarf star that it completes an orbit the star once every day and a half. This extremely close proximity keeps GJ 1132 b tidally locked, showing the same face to its star at all times — just as our moon keeps one hemisphere permanently facing Earth.

“The question is, what is keeping the mantle hot enough to remain liquid and power volcanism?” asked Swain. “This system is special because it has the opportunity for quite a lot of tidal heating.”

The phenomenon of tidal heating occurs through friction, when energy from a planet’s orbit and rotation is dispersed as heat inside the planet. GJ 1132 b is in an elliptical orbit, and the tidal forces acting on it are strongest when it is closest to or farthest from its host star. At least one other planet in the host star’s system also exerts a gravitational pull on the planet. The consequences are that the planet is squeezed or stretched by this gravitational “pumping.” That tidal heating keeps the mantle liquid for a long time. A nearby example in our own Solar System is the Jovian moon, Io, which has continuous volcanism as a result of a tidal tug-of-war between Jupiter and the neighbouring Jovian moons.

The team believes the crust of GJ 1132 b is extremely thin, perhaps only hundreds of feet thick. That’s much too feeble to support anything resembling volcanic mountains. Its flat terrain may also be cracked like an eggshell by tidal flexing. Hydrogen and other gases could be released through such cracks.

“This atmosphere, if it’s thin — meaning if it has a surface pressure similar to Earth — probably means you can see right down to the ground at infrared wavelengths. That means that if astronomers use the James Webb Space Telescope to observe this planet, there’s a possibility that they will see not the spectrum of the atmosphere, but rather the spectrum of the surface,” explained Swain. “And if there are magma pools or volcanism going on, those areas will be hotter. That will generate more emission, and so they’ll potentially be looking at the actual geological activity — which is exciting!”

This result is significant because it gives exoplanet scientists a way to figure out something about a planet’s geology from its atmosphere,” added Rimmer. “It is also important for understanding where the rocky planets in our own Solar System — Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, fit into the bigger picture of comparative planetology, in terms of the availability of hydrogen versus oxygen in the atmosphere.”

###

Notes:

[1] The observations were conducted as part of the Hubble observing program #14758 (PI: Zach Berta-Thomson).

Sensing suns

Astronomers accurately measure the temperature of red supergiant stars

red supergiant stars temperature
For the first time, astronomers develop an accurate method to determine the surface temperatures of red supergiants. Credits: © 2021 Daisuke Taniguchi/The University of Tokyo

Red supergiants are a class of star that end their lives in supernova explosions. Their lifecycles are not fully understood, partly due to difficulties in measuring their temperatures. For the first time, astronomers develop an accurate method to determine the surface temperatures of red supergiants.

Stars come in a wide range of sizes, masses and compositions. Our sun is considered a relatively small specimen, especially when compared to something like Betelgeuse which is known as a red supergiant. Red supergiants are stars over nine times the mass of our sun, and all this mass means that when they die they do so with extreme ferocity in an enormous explosion known as a supernova, in particular what is known as a Type-II supernova.

red supergiant stars temperature
The red supergiant appears as a red starburst between two orange clouds. Astronomers may now accurately measure the temperature of red supergiant stars. Credits: © 2021 Andrew Klinger

Type II supernovae seed the cosmos with elements essential for life; therefore, researchers are keen to know more about them. At present there is no way to accurately predict supernova explosions. One piece of this puzzle lies in understanding the nature of the red supergiants that precede supernovae.

Despite the fact red supergiants are extremely bright and visible at great distances, it is difficult to ascertain important properties about them, including their temperatures. This is due to the complicated structures of their upper atmospheres which leads to inconsistencies of temperature measurements that might work with other kinds of stars.

“In order to measure the temperature of red supergiants, we needed to find a visible, or spectral, property that was not affected by their complex upper atmospheres,” said graduate student Daisuke Taniguchi from the Department of Astronomy at the University of Tokyo. “Chemical signatures known as absorption lines were the ideal candidates, but there was no single line that revealed the temperature alone. However, by looking at the ratio of two different but related lines — those of iron — we found the ratio itself related to temperature. And it did so in a consistent and predictable way.”

Astronomers accurately measure the temperature of red supergiant stars: the WINERED spectrograph mounted on the Araki telescope. Credits: © 2021 Kyoto Sangyo University

Taniguchi and his team observed candidate stars with an instrument called WINERED which attaches to telescopes in order to measure spectral properties of distant objects. They measured the iron absorption lines and calculated the ratios to estimate the stars’ respective temperatures. By combining these temperatures with accurate distance measurements obtained by the European Space Agency’s Gaia space observatory, the researchers calculated the stars luminosity, or power, and found their results consistent with theory.

“We still have much to learn about supernovae and related objects and phenomena, but I think this research will help astronomers fill in some of the blanks,” said Taniguchi. “The giant star Betelgeuse (on Orion’s shoulder) could go supernova in our lifetimes; in 2019 and 2020 it dimmed unexpectedly. It would be fascinating if we were able to predict if and when it might go supernova. I hope our new technique contributes to this endeavor and more.”

###

Journal article

Daisuke Taniguchi, Noriyuki Matsunaga, Mingjie Jian, Naoto Kobayashi, Kei Fukue, Satoshi Hamano, Yuji Ikeda, Hideyo Kawakita, Sohei Kondo, Shogo Otsubo, Hiroaki Sameshima, Keiichi Takenaka and Chikako Yasui. Effective temperatures of red supergiants estimated from line-depth ratios of iron lines in the YJ bands, 0.97-1.32 μm. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
DOI: 10.1093/mnras/staa3855.
http://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/staa3855

Water trapped in star dust

Astrophysicists at the University of Jena (Germany) prove that dust particles in space are mixed with ice

water star dust
Clouds of interstellar dust and gas, here in the region “Cygnus-X” in the Swan constellation. Credits: ESA/PACS/SPIRE/Martin Hennemann & Frédérique Motte, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/Irfu – CNRS/INSU – Univ. Paris Diderot, France

The matter between the stars in a galaxy – called the interstellar medium – consists not only of gas, but also of a great deal of dust. At some point in time, stars and planets originated in such an environment, because the dust particles can clump together and merge into celestial bodies. Important chemical processes also take place on these particles, from which complex organic – possibly even prebiotic – molecules emerge. However, for these processes to be possible, there has to be water. In particularly cold cosmic environments, water occurs in the form of ice. Until now, however, the connection between ice and dust in these regions of space was unclear. A research team from Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy has now proven that the dust particles and the ice are mixed. They report their findings in the current issue of the research journal “Nature Astronomy”.

Better modelling of physico-chemical processes in space

Until now, we didn’t know whether ice is physically separated from the dust or mixed with individual dust moieties,” explains Dr Alexey Potapov of the University of Jena. “We compared the spectra of laboratory-made silicates, water ice and their mixtures with astronomical spectra of protostellar envelopes and protoplanetary disks. We established that the spectra are congruent if silicate dust and water ice are mixed in these environments.”

Astrophysicists can gain valuable information from this data. “We need to understand different physical conditions in different astronomical environments, in order to improve the modelling of physico-chemical processes in space,” says Potapov. This result would enable researchers to better estimate the amount of material and to make more accurate statements about the temperatures in different regions of the interstellar and circumstellar media.

 

Water trapped in dust

Through experiments and comparisons, scientists at the University of Jena also observed what happens with water when the temperatures increase and the ice leaves the solid body to which it is bound and passes into the gas phase at about 180 Kelvin (-93 degrees Celsius).

Some water molecules are so strongly bound to the silicate that they remain on the surface or inside dust particles,” says Potapov. “We suspect that such ‘trapped water’ also exists on or in dust particles in space. At least that is what is suggested by the comparison between the spectra obtained from the laboratory experiments and those in what is called the diffuse interstellar medium. We found clear indications that trapped water molecules exist there.”

The existence of such solid-state water suggests that complex molecules may also be present on the dust particles in the diffuse interstellar medium. If water is present on such particles, it is not a very long way to complex organic molecules, for example. This is because the dust particles usually consist of carbon, among other things, which, in combination with water and under the influence of ultraviolet radiation such as that found in the environment, promotes the formation of methanol, for example. Organic compounds have already been observed in these regions of the interstellar medium, but until now it has not been known where they originated.

The presence of solid-state water can also answer questions about another element: although we know the amount of oxygen in the interstellar medium, we previously had no information about where exactly around a third of it is located. The new research results suggest that the solid-state water in silicates is a hidden reservoir of oxygen.

Does solid-state water help in the formation of planets?

In addition, the “trapped water” can help in understanding how the dust accumulates, as it could promote the sticking together of smaller particles to form larger particles. This effect may even work in planet formation. “If we succeed in proving that ‘trapped water’ existed – or could exist – in building blocks of the Earth, there might possibly even be new answers to the question of how water came to Earth,” says Alexey Potapov. But as yet, these are only suppositions that the Jena researchers want to pursue in the future.

[1] ESA/PACS/SPIRE/Martin Hennemann & Frédérique Motte, Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/Irfu – CNRS/INSU – Univ. Paris Diderot, France

INFORMATION

Original publication:
A. Potapov, J. Bouwman, C. Jäger, Th. Henning (2020): Dust/ice mixing in cold regions and solid-state water in the diffuse interstellar medium, Nature astronomyhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-020-01214-x 

 

Press release from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena