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Astronomers Discover Extremely Rare, Jupiter-like Cloudless Exoplanet 575 Light Years Away from Earth

It seems Jupiter has got competition as scientists discover an exoplanet 575 light years away from earth. WASP-62b is an exoplanet that bears resemblance to the Solar System’s Jupiter in size, but is quite unique as it has no clouds or haze in its atmosphere. The discovery was made by astronomers from the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard & Smithsonian and was published in Astrophysical Journal Letters this month.

A team of fifteen scientists led by Munazza Alam, an NSF Graduate Research Fellow, a National Geographic Young Explorer, and a third-year graduate student in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University, used the Hubble Space Telescope to record data and observe the planet using spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is the study of electromagnetic radiation to help detect chemical elements. WASP-62b was first detected in 2012 through the Wide-Angle Search for Planets (WASP) South survey, which ultimately gave it its name. In a statement to Harvard & Smithsonian, Munazza said that for the thesis, her team worked on exoplanet characterization. She took the discovered planets and followed up on them to characterize their atmospheres.

WASP-62b, which is also known as hot Jupiter, is about half the mass of our solar system’s Jupiter. But unlike Jupiter, which takes nearly twelve years to revolve around the sun, WASP-62b completes a rotation around its star in four-and-a-half days. This proximity of the planet to the star makes it extremely hot which is why it is also known as the “hot Jupiter.”

For the research, Munazza’s team specifically monitored WASP-62b as it revolved around its host star three times. The light from the star made the observations easier for the astronomers who could detect the presence of sodium and potassium in the planet’s atmosphere.

The study did not find any evidence of potassium, however, sodium’s presence was clear. The study mentions that full sodium absorption lines in their data were visible. This was possible because there were no clouds or haze in the atmosphere to obscure the presence of sodium. Munazza said that the clear visibility of sodium in the hot Jupiter also showed how the planet has a clear atmosphere. The research mentioned that cloud-free planets are extremely rare, and it is estimated that less than seven percent of exoplanets have clear atmospheres. There is only one planet that is known to have a clear atmosphere besides WASP-62b, and it was discovered in 2018. The planet is classified as a hot Saturn and is called WASP-96b.

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