One day in the distant future, a team of intrepid humans might board a starship and set out for a world beyond our solar system — may be one of the exoplanets of Alpha Centauri, the nearby star system.
One place we’ll never set foot on is Kelt-9b. In addition to being a gas giant without a solid surface, Kelt-9b lies hundreds of light-years away and is the hottest planet ever observed.
Temperatures on its outer layer can exceed 4,000 degrees Celsius (7,000 degrees Fahrenheit) — hotter than some stars — and a new study shows that its superheated atmosphere contains vaporized heavy metals.
“Metals have been thought to be an important ingredient in forming exoplanets, but they were never directly directed,” study co-author Kevin Heng, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern in Switzerland, told NBC News MACH in an email.
“Our result is the first robust, direct detection.”For the research, published Aug. 15 in the journal Nature, an international team of scientists used computer simulations to predict the presence of vaporized iron and titanium in Kelt-9b’s atmosphere.
Then they compared their prediction to observational data already collected by the Galileo National Telescope in the Canary Islands — and saw that the prediction matched the data.