A planet made of melted metal could be the key for finding the next Earth

The planet MASCARA-2 b, a Jupiter-like gas giant roughly 2.68 quadrillion miles from Earth. Sam Cabot​/Yale

  • Scientists have discovered a new ‘Hot Jupiter’ located 4.31 quadrillion kilometres from Earth dubbed MASCARA-2 b.
  • Finding a way to study this hot, gassy giant could yield next-generation techniques for finding habitable planets in the universe.
  • The detection of vaporized metals on MASCARA-2 b is one of the first discoveries made by Yale’s Extreme PREcision Spectrometer (EXPRES).
A planet that’s gassy like Jupiter with melted metals in its atmosphere, and placed right next to the Sun, doesn’t sound like paradise. However, scientists are excited to be studying MASCARA-2 b because those characteristics make for the perfect laboratory.

If astronomers can find a way to study this ‘Hot Jupiter’ located 4.31 quadrillion kilometres from Earth, they can find a planet anywhere in the universe — especially one that holds hope for life.

"Hot Jupiters provide the best laboratories for developing analysis techniques that will one day be used to search for biosignatures on potentially habitable worlds," said Debra Fischer, an astronomer at Yale and co-author of a new study accepted Astronomy and Astrophysics.

What 'not-on-Earth' is a Hot Jupiter?
The concept of Hot Jupiters was alien until the first of its kind was discovered 25 years ago. These planets are primarily made up of gas like the Jupiter in our own solar system, but surface temperatures are much higher.

On MASCARA-2 b, for instance, the surface temperature can exceed 1,726 degrees Celcius. That’s nearly more than 20 times the temperature of boiling water, which explains why the atmosphere is mostly made up of melted metals.

"The detection of vaporized metals in the atmosphere of MASCARA-2 b is one of the first exciting science results to emerge from EXPRES," said Fischer.

This is mostly because instead of being the fifth planet from the Sun, MASCARA-2 b is a 100 times closer to its star.

How do you find a Hot Jupiter?
MASCARA 2-b was discovered using the Extreme PREcision Spectrometer (EXPRES), which was built at Yale and installed on the 4.3-meter Lowell Discovery Telescope in the US state of Arizona.

Even though the primary mission of EXPRES is to find Earth-like planets based on the slight gravitational influence they have on their stars, it can also be useful when trying to decipher the atmospheric details of far-away planets.

Using this instrument, the lead author of the study — Jens Hoeijmakers — was able to find out that the chemical make up of a ‘morning’ on MASACARA-2 b is different from the ‘evening’.

"These chemical detections may not only teach us about the elemental composition of the atmosphere but also about the efficiency of atmospheric circulation patterns," said Hoeijmakers.

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