To their surprise, astronomers found no methane on the night side of a known exoplanet

About the episode

The exoplanet WASP-43b is similar to Jupiter in size and mass, but is nothing like the known gas giant.

The planet orbits its star very closely, making it permanently day on one side and permanently night on the other. A planetary year, i.e. the time the planet orbits the star once, thus takes only about 19.5 hours.

This makes it easy to study the planet for an entire year. Although you still need very good tools. It is located on the James Webb Telescope, among others.

This has now allowed a closer look at the dark, night side of the planet and the creation of a temperature map of the entire planet. The chemical composition of the atmosphere was also measured. There appears to be water vapor in the atmosphere on both the day and night side.

It was already known that methane could not exist on the day side of the planet. It’s very hot there. But new measurements show no methane on the night side either. This was a big surprise to the researchers. At 600 degrees, the night side is theoretically cold enough to produce methane.

Researchers believe that strong winds of up to 7,500 kilometers per hour are the reason why detectable amounts of methane could not be formed.

This is the first time that scientists have drawn a clear map of the temperature and composition of the atmosphere of an exoplanet. In the future they want to do this with more exoplanets.

Read more about the research here: Surprise: There’s no methane on the night-side exoplanet WASP-43b

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Megan Vasquez

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