Gas giant exoplanet WASP-69b has captured the attention of astronomers, this time because of the trail of gas it’s leaving behind – a tail that’s some seven times longer than the planet’s radius. This tail is being created as the atmosphere of WASP-69b gets stripped away, making it a fascinating celestial object to study.
An Unusual and Astounding Celestial Object
Located approximately 160 light-years away from Earth, WASP-69b is roughly the same size as Jupiter, but it sits unusually close to its star. This proximity to its star is the primary reason why this gas giant has an elongated tail. The team behind the discovery, led by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), explains that the stellar wind radiation is blasting away the atmosphere of WASP-69b, resulting in the remarkable trail of gas.
Previous research had hinted at the possibility of a subtle tail for WASP-69b. However, the UCLA team has now definitively detected this extraordinary tail, which extends at least seven times longer than the planet itself. The team’s breakthrough was made possible through observations from a 10-meter telescope at the WM Keck Observatory in Hawaii. By utilizing the observatory’s high-resolution spectrograph, capable of precisely mapping changes in light wavelength and frequency, the researchers were able to determine that WASP-69b was losing significant amounts of hydrogen and helium. The spectrograph also provided invaluable insights into the interactions between these gases and the stellar wind.
A New Window into Planetary and Stellar Interactions
Studying WASP-69b’s atmospheric loss and its interaction with the stellar wind will provide astronomers with vital information about how planets and stars interact. This phenomenon has been observed at a crucial, early stage, offering a unique opportunity to understand the critical physics that shape thousands of other planets. Astrophysicist Erik Petigura from UCLA emphasizes the significance of the WASP-69b system, stating, “The WASP-69b system is a gem because we have a rare opportunity to study atmospheric mass-loss in real time.”
WASP-69b, also known as a hot Jupiter, has been known to scientists for over a decade. It is a massive planet orbiting dangerously close to its star, completing a full orbit in less than four Earth days. Despite its massive tail, WASP-69b is not at risk of running out of steam anytime soon. Its immense size, approximately 90 times the mass of Earth, means that even with the loss of an enormous amount of mass, the planet will remain relatively unaffected over the course of its life. Astrophysicist Dakotah Tyler from UCLA explains, “At around 90 times the mass of Earth, WASP-69b has such a large reservoir of material that even losing this enormous amount of mass won’t affect it much over the course of its life.”
The detection of the extraordinary tail of WASP-69b highlights the perpetual fascination and ever-expanding field of exoplanet research. As this latest study demonstrates, there is still much to discover about planets beyond our solar system. WASP-69b, with its captivating characteristics and ongoing atmospheric loss, offers a wealth of opportunities for scientists to delve deeper into the mysteries of exoplanets and their interactions with stars. The continuous study of this gas giant will undoubtedly contribute to our understanding of the universe and the countless celestial objects it contains.