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Deepak Dogra
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'Hot Jupiter' with deadly stratosphere stuns scientists

  • 'Hot Jupiter' with deadly stratosphere stuns scientists

A NASA-led team of scientists has determined that WASP-18b, a "hot JupiterBSE -2.93 %" located 325 light-years from Earth, has a smothering stratosphere that is loaded with carbon monoxide, or CO, but has no signs of water. "The composition of WASP-18b defies all expectations," said Kyle Sheppard of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.  

"We don't know of any other extrasolar planet where carbon monoxide so completely dominates the upper atmosphere," Sheppard said.

The findings, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, come from a new analysis of observations made by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes.

The formation of a stratosphere layer in a planet's atmosphere is attributed to "sunscreen"-like molecules, which absorb ultra violet (UV) and visible radiation coming from the star and then release that energy as heat.

The new study suggests that the "hot Jupiter" WASP-18b, a massive planet that orbits very close to its host star, has an unusual composition, and the formation of this world might have been quite different from that of Jupiter as well as gas giants in other planetary systems.

On Earth, ozone absorbs UV in the stratosphere, protecting our world from a lot of the Sun's harmful radiation.

For the handful of exoplanets with stratospheres, the absorber is typically thought to be a molecule such as titanium oxide, a close relative of titanium dioxide, used on Earth as a paint pigment and sunscreen ingredient.