Aluminum Oxide Identified in an Exoplanet’s Atmosphere

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An international group of scientists found the first sign of aluminum oxide present in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, the WASP-33b, situated at about 380 light years away from Earth. The researchers conducted the study using the OSIRIS instrument of the “Gran Telescopio Canarias” (GTC) to study the chemical composition of the so-called “Ultrahot Jupiter” exoplanet whose temperature is around 3,200 degrees Celsius.

According to the scientists at the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics, WASP-33b orbits the star WASP-33. This exoplanet completes an orbit around its host once every 1.22 days, and its orbit is almost perpendicular to the rotation plane of the star, and its translation is contrary to the rotation of its star.

The study published in the journal “Astronomy & Astrophysics” details the chemical composition analysis performed on WASP-33b, said the study’s principal investigator, Carolina von Essen, a scientist of the University of Aarhus, in Denmark.

Aluminum Oxide Identified in an Exoplanet’s Atmosphere

“The exoplanet’s atmosphere models we have today predict is that this ‘Ultrahot Jupiter’¬†should be free of clouds and present a variety of oxides in the visible, such as vanadium oxide, titanium,¬†and aluminum oxide,” the scientists said.

However, said the researcher, there are a limited number of exoplanets where these molecules have been detected, a situation that calls into question the scientific models. A detailed characterization of the chemical composition of this planets would help determine whether exoplanetary atmosphere models correctly predict their chemical composition or whether they should be corrected as new findings are made.

“Using modern and detailed methods to determine the chemical composition of WASP-33b, we found that the trait observed in the transmission spectrum can best be represented with aluminum oxide in the exoplanet’s atmosphere,” said Carolina von Essen.

The team has found no significant evidence of other molecules and a high abundance of aluminum oxide, so they will make further observations of its spectrum with both ground and space telescopes to confirm this detection.