The VLT telescope has discovered an exoplanet on which liquid iron falls

Artistic vision depicting the night side of the planet WASP-76b. Source: ESO / M. Kornmesser

Imagine a planet. Now imagine a planet on which it is very hot. Now imagine a planet with a surface temperature of 2400 degrees Celsius enough to evaporate metals. Strong winds carry such evaporated iron to the night side of the planet, where it condenses into iron drops that fall to the surface.

Such a planet was discovered by astronomers working on VLT (Very Large Telescope), one of the largest telescopes on Earth.

We can say that in the evenings it often rains on this planet. It's just iron falling, 'says David Ehrenreich, a professor at the University of Geneva who researched this quaint object.

The planet WASP-76b is located 640 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Pisces. Iron precipitation is caused, among others in that, like the moon orbiting the Earth, WASP-76b is constantly facing the same star. The other half of the planet remains bathed in eternal darkness.

The planet's day side reaches thousands of times more radiation than it reaches Earth from the Sun. The surface of the planet is so hot that the chemical compounds break down into individual atoms, and metals such as iron evaporate into the atmosphere. Huge temperature differences between the day and night side of the planet cause the formation of strong winds that blow gaseous iron from the hot side of the planet to the night, cooler (here the temperature reaches 1500 degrees Celsius).

Thanks to the latest ESPRESSO instrument installed on the VLT, astronomers were able to see gaseous iron in the atmosphere of the planet in the lane where the day turns into night. As if that was not enough, the same iron is no longer in the lane where the night turns into the day. This means that during the night there is condensation and precipitation of iron on the planet's surface.

The above discovery was made in data collected during the first observations carried out with the ESPRESSO instrument in September 2018. Originally ESPRESSO was designed to search for Earth-like planets and orbiting Sun-like stars, but it soon turned out to be a much more comprehensive and perfectly suitable for studying the atmosphere of many exoplanets.

The VLT has discovered an exoplanet on which liquid iron falls


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