WASP-96b is first cloudless exoplanet on record

For the first time in history researchers have spotted a cloudless exoplanet.
By Joseph Scalise | May 11, 2018
A team of international astronomers have discovered the first cloudless exoplanet known to science, according to recentresearchoutlinedin the journal Nature.

The world -- known as WASP-96b -- has a sodium-rich atmosphere and, at 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit, it is extremely hot. In addition, the planet is also quite large, measuring 20 percent larger than Jupiter. However, as its mass is similar to Saturn's, scientists have dubbed the planet a "hot Saturn."

WASP-96b's sodium levels are also similar to ones found in our own solar system. As a result, the planet could help further the current understanding of gas giants.

"It is difficult to predict which of these hot atmospheres will have thick clouds. By seeing the full range of possible atmospheres, from very cloudy to nearly cloud-free like WASP-96b, we'll gain a better understanding of what these clouds are made of," said study co-author Jonathan J. Fortney, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in a statement.

To get a close look at the world, astronomers used the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope to determine its atmospheric makeup. However, while that process is normally obstructed by clouds, there were no such issues during the study.

Rather, the team gathered a clear signature for sodium. That high-quality reading suggested the planet has no clouds at all. That then means it is the first evidence of a cloudless world.

"WASP-96b is the only exoplanet that appears to be entirely cloud-free and shows such a clear sodium signature, making the planet a benchmark for characterization," said lead author Nikolay Nikolov, a research from the University of Exeter, according to Gizmodo.

The world's cloudless skies are important because they could held shed new light on how much water, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide the planet could potentially have. In addition, identifying molecule signatures with other large telescopes will likely enhance how well astronomers understand planets within and outside our own galaxy.


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