The rare metal terbium has been found for the first time in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have also developed a new method for analyzing exoplanets, which makes it possible to study them in more detail.
KELT-9 b is the hottest exoplanet in the galaxy, orbiting its distant star 670 light-years from Earth. This celestial body, which has a staggering average temperature of 4,000 degrees Celsius, has excited astronomers of the world since its discovery in 2016. The new study is accepted for publication in Astronomy and astrophysicsrevealing discoveries about a sweltering eccentric atmosphere.
“We have developed a new method that makes it possible to obtain more detailed information. Using this, we have detected seven elements, including the rare substance terbium, which has not been found before in the atmosphere of any exoplanet,” says Nicholas Borsato, Ph.D. Dr.. student in astrophysics at Lund University.
Terbium is a rare earth metal that belongs to the so-called lanthanoids. The substance was discovered in 1843 by the Swedish chemist Carl Gustav Musander in the Ytterbi mine in the Stockholm archipelago. The substance is very rare in nature, and 99% of the world’s terbium production today takes place in the Bayan Obo mining area in Inner Mongolia.
“Finding terbium in the atmosphere of an exoplanet is very surprising,” says Nicholas Borsato.
Most exoplanets are discovered by astronomers who measure the brightness of stars. When an exoplanet passes in front of its star, the star’s brightness decreases. Thanks to an advanced measurement method, the researchers succeeded in filtering out the dominant signals in KELT-9 b’s atmosphere. This opens up the possibility of discovering more about the atmospheres of other exoplanets.
“Knowing more about the heavier elements helps us, among other things, determine the age of the exoplanets and how they formed,” Nicholas Borsato explains.
Exoplanets, or extrasolar planets, are planets found in solar systems other than our own. The first confirmed discovery was made in 1992 of an exoplanet orbiting a neutron star. Three years later, the first exoplanet with a sun-like star was discovered. Since then, more than 5,000 exoplanets have been recorded. The existence of exoplanets often raises questions about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.
“The discovery of heavy elements in the extremely hot atmospheres of exoplanets is another step towards learning how planetary atmospheres work. The better we get to know these planets, the greater our chance of finding Earth 2.0 in the future,” concludes Nicholas Borsato. .
NW Borsato et al, The Mantis Network III: Expanding the frontiers of chemical research within superheated Jupiters. New discoveries of CaI, VI, TiI, CrI, NiI, SrII, BaII and TbII in KELT-9b, arXiv (2023). doi: 10.48550/arxiv.2304.04285
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