Researchers announced on Monday the discovery of an exceptionally unique exoplanet located outside our solar system. This scorching hellish world, slightly larger than Neptune, orbits a star similar to our Sun every 19 hours. The planet is believed to be enveloped in metallic clouds composed of titanium and silicates, reflecting a majority of incoming light back into space.
The exoplanet can be described as a “giant mirror in space,” according to James Jenkins, a co-author of the research published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics and affiliated with Diego Portales University and the Center for Excellence in Astrophysics and Associated Technologies (CATA) in Chile
Scientists have discovered that the exoplanet reflects approximately 80% of incoming light, making it the most reflective object known in the universe. In comparison, Venus, which is adorned with toxic sulfuric acid clouds, is the most reflective object in our solar system, reflecting about 75% of incoming light. Earth, by contrast, reflects around 30% of incoming light.
The planet, named LTT9779b, along with its host star, resides within our Milky Way galaxy, positioned approximately 264 light years away from Earth in the direction of the Sculptor constellation.
With a diameter approximately 4.7 times larger than that of Earth, the planet orbits remarkably close to its star, even closer than Mercury’s proximity to the sun in our solar system. In fact, it is 60 times closer to its star than Earth’s orbit. The intense solar radiation from its star results in surface temperatures soaring to around 3,270 degrees Fahrenheit (1,800 degrees Celsius), surpassing the heat of molten lava.
The researchers expressed amazement that the exoplanet retains any atmosphere considering its close proximity to the star.
Due to the intense solar radiation, an atmosphere similar to Earth’s, consisting of water-based clouds, would have likely dissipated over time. However, researchers propose that the exoplanet possesses metallic clouds composed of a combination of titanium and silicate, the same materials found in the majority of Earth’s crust.
According to Vivien Parmentier, an astronomer and co-author of the study from the Côte d’Azur Observatory in France, the exoplanet’s ability to maintain an atmosphere despite its close proximity to the star makes it “a planet that shouldn’t exist.”
Furthermore, the exoplanet exhibits signs of tidal locking, similar to the moon’s relationship with Earth. This means that one side of the planet constantly faces the star, resulting in a permanent day side, while the opposite side remains in perpetual darkness as the permanent night side.
The researchers are contemplating two possible scenarios regarding LTT9779b, classified as an “ultra-hot Neptune.” They are considering whether the planet initially formed as a gas giant and subsequently lost the majority of its atmosphere, or if it originated at its current size without significant atmospheric changes.
Over 5,000 exoplanets, planets located beyond our solar system, have been identified, showcasing a wide array of characteristics that differ significantly from the eight planets in our own solar system.
As more advanced instruments such as the James Webb Space Telescope, operational since last year, and the under-construction Extremely Large Telescope in Chile, become available, further remarkable discoveries are anticipated in the field of exoplanet exploration.