Written by Robert Scotchi | updated
Astronomy and physics reported that scientists have discovered a distant, highly mineralized exoplanet with a puzzling composition in a recent study. The planet, called LTT9779 b, is located more than 260 light-years from Earth and has a very high albedo, which is the scientific way of saying that it reflects a frightening amount of light into space from its atmosphere. This metallic planet is farther away from planets we know when you consider its proximity to its star, which gives it an estimated surface temperature in the ballpark of 2,000 degrees Celsius.
A metallic planet reflects so much light back into space that scientists are baffled by what is happening on its surface.
Observatory researcher on Côte d’Azur Vivian Parmentier, who co-authored the study, notes that most planets that occupy regions very close to their home star will have their atmospheres evaporated by the intense heat.
But in the case of LTT9779 b, the metallic planet has a unique atmosphere composed of metallic clouds, giving it a heavier, more difficult to dislodge atmosphere. The planet’s metallic clouds also reflect light from the star and keep the planet’s surface from getting too hot.
LTT9779 b is not just a metallic planet, it has metallic clouds covering the surface, which contribute to the warming.
The planet’s unique composition and luminosity were analyzed using the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS satellite. LTT9779 b’s proximity to its parent star allows it to make a full orbit every 19 hours, and researchers have been able to track the brightness of the planet as it moves behind the star, an event known as a secondary eclipse.
In their research, the scientists concluded that LTT9779 b has an albedo of 80 percent, which is 50 percent higher than that of Earth, and five percent higher than that of Venus, which has the highest albedo in our solar system.
Unlike Venus, which has an atmosphere of carbon dioxide and clouds of sulfuric acid that trap heat, LTT9779 b’s atmosphere is so saturated with silicate and metal vapors that it reflects off.
In other words, the metallic planet contains both glassy and metallic clouds that shower super-hot titanium droplets when they get very heavy. The surface of LTT9779 b is exposed to die from thousands of times; This harbinger of destruction creates a protective, reflective barrier that prevents the surface from being blown away by its home star.
A metallic planet with titanium clouds sounds like something out of science fiction, but it’s out there in the universe.
This metallic planet is the first of its kind discovered by scientists, and its puzzling nature fascinates us, to say the least. As we continue to learn about LTT9779 b’s ability to stay in one piece despite the insane amount of heat it absorbs, we wonder if similar metallic planetesimals are more common than we think.
Although an all-metal planet with clouds of titanium looks like a home planet to some advanced alien race we see in a dystopian sci-fi movie, we can’t deny that we’ve found something new and shiny that we can’t take our eyes off.
Now that the James Webb telescope has officially (and successfully) been in service for a year, we can only hope that researchers will eventually point their highly sensitive infrared telescopes in the direction of the metallic planet so we can get a more detailed look and, nevertheless, a better understanding. How does this unique exoplanet function?