Alien atmospheres could help in our understanding of exoplanets

Examining the nature of haze in laboratory-created alien atmospheres could help us better understand exoplanets.
By Tyler MacDonald | Apr 10, 2018
A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University are examining simulated alien atmospheres that mimic haze formation in exoplanet atmospheres in order to better understand data obtained by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, according to Syfy Wire.

Although telescopes can observe the sky without cloud interference, they have a problem seeing through hazes on other planets. In order to get around this, scientists decided to simulate this exoplanet haze formation.

"One of the reasons why we're starting to do this work is to understand if having a haze layer on these planets would make them more or less habitable," said Sarah Hrst, lead author of the study.

Hrst and her team examined the varying gas levels using a computer model to create nine simulated planets. The team then created the combinations of particles predicted by the laboratory model in order to determine which gas mixtures are most likely to lead to haze formation.

"Sometimes, they'll make a solid particle, creating haze, and sometimes they won't," Hrst said. "The fundamental question for this paper was: Which of these gas mixtures which of these atmospheres will we expect to be hazy?"

It turns out that each of the nine lab-created atmospheres create haze in varying amounts, with the most haze particles observed in the water-dominated atmospheres as opposed to the methane atmospheres where the team expected to see more haze.

"We had this idea for a long time thatmethane chemistrywas the one true path to make a haze, and we know that's not true now," Hrst said.

The recent data marks the beginning of haze research that aims to help analyze data from the James Webb Space Telescope, which could help in our understanding of distant worlds and their potential for alien life.

The findings were published in Nature Astronomy.

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