The universe is littered with trillions of planets.
Those that lie outside our solar system are termed as exoplanets. We still don’t know much about exoplanets and most of our efforts are dedicated to finding Earth-like planets to call home. But every so often, scientists discover extreme worlds with merciless surfaces, rightfully nicknamed “hell planets.”
From Corot-7b where it rains rocks to HB 189773b where it rains glass – these hellish planets are boiling, desolate worlds in the far regions of our universe.
So it comes as no surprise (at least it shouldn’t) when scientists discover WASP-121b, a mysterious planet with a unique, football-like shape. Scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe WASP-121b and found heavy metals literally floating away from the planet. WASP-121b is in close proximity to its host star, due to which its surface temperature is 10 times greater than that of any known planet.
Why the football-shape though? The star’s massive gravity is slowly ripping the planet apart, starting first with its upper atmosphere. A close observer would see a trail of hydrogen and helium gas swirling out of the planet, almost like a river enriched in precious metals. WASP-121b has weak gravity, making it that much easier for the atmosphere to escape to its host star.
This extreme planet has been picked by NASA in its upcoming search in infrared light for carbon dioxide and water using their James Webb Space Telescope, which has a launch date of 2021. It is hoped that WASP-121b will provide scientists with more insights about the chemical composition of the planet’s atmosphere.
The project will also explain how newly formed planets lose their upper atmospheres as they draw near their host stars.
The full research paper on the planet was published online on August 1 in The Astronomical Journal. You can view it here.