According to a recent NASA statement, observations from the Hubble Space Telescope have been utilized in order to build a temperature map of an exoplanet. The planet in question, WASP 43b, was first discovered in 2011 and is classified as a hot Jupiter, a gas giant that orbits extremely close to its host star. At 260 light-years away, WASP 43b is too distant to be photographed.
WASP 43b is approximately the size of Jupiter but is almost two times as dense. The planet orbits so near to its parent star that it completes one orbit every 19 hours. A research team led by Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago used two methods to create the temperature map of WASP 43b.
One method was spectroscopy, in which light from the planet is broken down into its constituent colors, which revealed the amount of water and the temperatures in the atmosphere. The team also examined the planet’s rotation, which allow the researchers to measure how water is distributed in the atmosphere at a range of longitudes.
“Our observations are the first of their kind in terms of providing a two-dimensional map on the longitude and altitude of the planet’s thermal structure that can be used to constrain atmospheric circulation and dynamical models for hot exoplanets,” explained team member Kevin Stevenson of the University of Chicago.
In turns out that WASP 43b has around the same quantity of water that would be expected in an object with a chemical composition like that of the Sun. The researchers plan to derive measurements of water abundance for other exoplanets in the near future. This could eventually reveal how exotic planets with a composition like that of hot Jupiters formed.
The new research has been published in two online papers, in the journals Science Express and The Astrophysical Journal Letters.