It has been a landmark for discovering new, fascinating worlds.
In 2022, NASA surpassed 5,000 confirmed exoplanets, which are alien worlds beyond our solar system. These include a variety of distant planets, including (perhaps rocky) super-Earths, gas giants such as Jupiter, “ice giants” like Neptune, and so on. Although planetary scientists have discovered thousands of these strange sites, it is likely that there are over one trillions of exoplanets only in our Milky Way galaxy.
And in the coming year, the James Webb Space Telescope – the most powerful telescope ever built – will look into the atmosphere of some of these planets, giving scientists unmatched insights into these still largely mysterious spheres.
Some of the latest discoveries, made so far in 2022, are fascinating, extreme worlds. Read about them below.
The different types of exoplanets discovered by NASA and other space organizations.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
The planet hosts metal clouds and raining gems
An artist’s view of the exoplanet WASP-121 b.
Credit: Patricia Klein / MPIA
Planetary scientists discover many distant exoplanets by pointing specialized telescopes, as NASA’s legendary Kepler telescope, at distant stars and looking for declines in their brightness. It is a strong indication that a planet passed in front of that star.
Sometimes researchers can even glimpse an atmosphere of an exoplanet (an achievement that will become more common with the powerful Web telescope). Recently, scientists found that airborne metals and precious stones are likely to be found on the colder side of WASP-121 b, an exoplanet about 855 light-years from Earth. There, it is cool enough for metals in the high atmosphere – such as magnesium, iron, vanadium, chromium and nickel – to condense to clouds.
What can such metallic clouds look like? “I do not think we can say for sure what they would look like, because cloud formation is complicated and we do not have such clouds to observe up close in our own solar system,” says Thomas Mikal-Evans, an astronomer. at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and a lead author of the research, told Mashable.
But he speculated in these extraterrestrial clouds can resemble dust storms on earth. Some clouds may be blue or red. Other gray or green.
And sometimes the clouds could be further condensed into drops, which ultimately means gems raining from the sky.
A strange “rugby ball shaped” planet
The “rugby ball-shaped” exoplanet WASP-103b.
Most planets are spherical. But not WASP-103b.
European Space Agency (ESA) Space Telescope Cheops (abbreviation of CHcharacterize ExOPlanet Satellite), found that WASP-103-b – a planet twice the size of Jupiter – zooms around its star in just one day. This causes extreme jerks on the planet, a much more intense version of how the moon draws tides on Earth. Ultimately, this attraction has deformed the planet from its once spherical shape.
The Cheops satellite measures small changes in light and was able to observe the planet’s odd shape as it passed in front of its star. “The magnitude of the effect of tidal formation on an exoplanet transit light curve is very small, but thanks to Cheops’ very high precision, we can see this for the first time,” said ESA’s Cheops project researcher Kate Isaak. said in a statement.
A rare discovery on a “Super Neptune.”
An artist’s conception of a “super Neptune” exoplanet.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
About 150 light-years from Earth, astronomers discovered a “super Neptune” (meaning a planet slightly larger than Neptune) with water vapor in the atmosphere. It’s a rarity.
“At 150 light-years, [TOI-674 b is] considered “close” in astronomical terms, ” writes NASAwhich is one reason why scientists can develop the chemical composition of its atmosphere.
“Many questions remain, such as how much water vapor its atmosphere holds,” the space agency added. “But the atmosphere of TOI-674 b is much easier to observe than that of many exoplanets, making it a prime target for deeper exploration.”
Perhaps the James Webb Telescope, which will return its first cosmic images in July 2022, will look deeper into the atmosphere of this exoplanet.
A still-forming exoplanet
An artist’s performance of the giant exoplanet AB Aurigae b.
Credit: NASA / ESA / Joseph Olmsted (STScI)
Planetary scientists discovered a giant, still-forming exoplanet called AB Aurigae f.
The more than 30-year-old Hubble Space Telescope depicted the planet, which is evolving into a still young and volatile disk of gas and dust, called a protoplanetary disk. The star of the nascent solar system is only 2 million years old. (The sun, for that matter, is over 4.5 billion years old.).
The new planet is huge. Scientists suspect that it is nine times larger than Jupiter. And it orbits deep far from its star, about 8.6 billion miles away. It is over twice as far as Pluto is from the sun.
Unlike most planets, which scientists believe were formed when smaller objects in the planetary disk collided and grew into large, hot planetary objects, AB Aurigae b may have formed when its cooled disk was broken up into large fragments.
Exoplanet discoveries will be added as scientists find more wild worlds in 2022.
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