It was a milestone year for discovering new, fascinating worlds.
By 2022, NASA surpassed 5,000 confirmed exoplanets, which are alien worlds outside our solar system. These include a diversity of distant planets, including (perhaps rocky) super-Earths, gas giants such as Jupiter, “ice giants” like Neptune, and further. Although planetary scientists have discovered thousands of these curious places, there are probably more than one trillion exoplanets only in our Milky Way galaxy.
And in the coming year, the James Webb Space Telescope – the most powerful telescope ever built — will peer into the atmospheres of some of these planets, giving scientists unprecedented insights into these still largely mysterious orbs.
Some of the most recent 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 agencies.
Planet is home to metallic clouds and raining gems
An artistic concept of the exoplanet WASP-121 b.
Credit: Patricia Klein/MPIA
Planetary scientists spot many distant exoplanets by pointing specialized telescopes, like NASA’s legendary Kepler telescope, to distant stars and looking for dips in their brightness. It’s a strong indication that a planet passed in front of that star.
Sometimes scientists can even glimpse the atmosphere of an exoplanet (a feat more common with the powerful Webb telescope). Recently, researchers found that metals and gems in the air likely exist on the cooler side of WASP-121 b, an exoplanet some 855 light-years from Earth. There, it’s cool enough for metals in the high atmosphere — such as magnesium, iron, vanadium, chromium and nickel — to condense into clouds.
What could such metallic clouds look like? “I don’t think we can say for sure what they’ll look like because cloud formation is complicated and we don’t have clouds like these to observe up close in our own solar system,” Thomas Mikal-Evans, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and lead author of the study, told Mashable†
But he speculated these alien clouds could look like dust storms on Earth† Some clouds may be colored blue or red. Others gray or green.
And sometimes the clouds could condense further into droplets, which ultimately means gems raining down from the sky.
A weird “rugby ball shaped” planet
The “rugby ball-shaped” exoplanet WASP-103b.
Most planets are spherical. But not WASP-103b†
The European Space Agency (ESA) Cheops Space Telescope (abbreviation of CHAct EXONlane ssatellite), found that WASP-103-b — a planet twice the size of Jupiter — zooms around its star in just a day. This causes extreme pulling on the planet, a much more intense version of how the moon pulls on tides on Earth. Ultimately, this pull distorted the planet from its once spherical shape.
The Cheops satellite measures small changes in light and was able to detect the strange shape of the planet as it passed in front of its star. “The magnitude of the effect of tidal shifting on a transit light curve of an exoplanet is very small, but the very high precision of Cheops allows us to see this for the first time,” said ESA’s Cheops project scientist Kate Isaak. said in a statement†
A rare discovery on a ‘Super Neptune’.
An artist’s concept of a “super Neptune” exoplanet.
About 150 light-years from Earth, astronomers discovered a “super Neptune” (that is, a planet slightly larger than Neptune) with water vapor in its atmosphere. That’s a rarity.
“At 150 light years, [TOI-674 b is] considered ‘near’ in astronomical terms,” writes NASAwhich is one reason scientists can figure out the chemical makeup of the atmosphere.
“Many questions remain, such as how much water vapor the atmosphere contains,” the space agency added. “But the atmosphere of TOI-674 b is much easier to observe than that of many exoplanets, making it an important target for deeper research.”
Perhaps the James Webb telescope, which will return its first cosmic images in July 2022, will peer deeper into this exoplanet’s atmosphere.
A still forming exoplanet
An artistic concept of the giant exoplanet AB Aurigae b.
Credit: NASA/ESA/Joseph Olmsted (STScI)
Planetary Scientists discovered a gigantic, still-forming exoplanet called AB Aurigae b.
The more than 30-year-old Hubble Space Telescope imaged the planet as it develops into a still young and volatile disk of gas and dust, a protoplanetary disk. The star of the nascent solar system is only 2 million years old. (The sun, for context, is over 4.5 billion years old.).
The new planet is huge. Scientists suspect it is nine times larger than Jupiter. And it orbits deep from its star, some 8.6 billion miles away. that is more than twice as far like Pluto comes from the sun.
Unlike most planets, which researchers believe formed when smaller objects in the planetary disk collided and grew into large, hot planetary objects, AB Aurigae b may have formed when the cooled disk disintegrated into large fragments.
Discoveries of exoplanets will be added as scientists find more wild worlds in 2022.
#stunning #planets #discovered