Scientists are Creating an Alien Atmosphere on Earth

Scientists are Creating an Alien Atmosphere on Earth

Scientists are Creating an Alien Atmosphere on Earth
Image Credits: SciTechDaily

In order to simulate the potential conditions on Hot Jupiters, researchers at NASA are cooking up an alien atmosphere on Earth.

The advancement of technology has enabled humanity to explore different sections of our universe. For the sake of improving the understanding of our surroundings, scientists are expanding their research in every direction. The search for exoplanets has been a really hot topic in recent years and the discovery of Hot Jupiters is one of its many results. These gas giants are inferred to be physically similar to Jupiter and have extremely high temperatures which give them an alien atmosphere with respect to our planet.

They orbit very close to their parent stars and usually have an orbital period of fewer than 10 days. Such a close proximity to a star means that they have extremely high surface-atmosphere temperatures that generally lie in the range of 530o C to 2,800o C. In an attempt to replicate that harsh environment, researchers at JPL used a high-temperature oven to heat a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon Monoxide to more than 1,100o C. Murthy Gudipati, the Lead of the study, described the experiment in the following words:

“Though it is impossible to exactly simulate in the laboratory these harsh exoplanet environments, we can come very close.”  

Alien Atmosphere

The experiment of creating an alien atmosphere started with a simple chemical mixture comprising mostly of Hydrogen gas with traces of Carbon Monoxide in it. The abundant existence of these molecules in the universe makes them a suitable candidate for composing the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter. The researching team heated this mixture to up to 1,230o C during the course of the experiment. Similarly, they exposed the system to a high intensity of ultraviolet radiation (that a hot Jupiter will experience being incredibly close to its parent star). The use of UV light played an important role in establishing the alien atmosphere.

The fact that hot Jupiters are much larger than standard planets allows them to radiate more light than cooler planets. As a result, scientists can extract more information about these massive celestial bodies than other types of exoplanets. One of the most important findings of this research was to figure out an explanation for the opacity of hot Jupiter atmospheres at high altitudes. The role of clouds become more and more insignificant as the pressure continues to decrease and researchers were in search of a logical explanation for this opacity. The results of the study showed that the presence of Aerosols could be the reason they were after. Benjamin Fleury, the Lead Author of the study, referred to that by saying,

“This result changes the way we interpret those hazy hot Jupiter atmospheres. Going forward, we want to study the properties of these aerosols. We want to better understand how they form, how they absorb light and how they respond to changes in the environment. All that information can help astronomers understand what they’re seeing when they observe these planets.”

Carbon Dioxide and Water

Another surprise that came our way from this study was the production of significant amounts of water and Carbon Dioxide in these chemical reactions. According to a popular belief of scientists, water molecules can form only when there is more Oxygen than Carbon, in the atmosphere. Contrary to that, researchers found that water vapors can also form when there are equal quantities of Oxygen and Carbon. The production rate of Carbon Dioxide was greatly accelerated by adding the UV light to the mixture. Mark Swain, a Co-author of the study, acknowledged that these results have changed the way they interpreted the atmosphere of hot Jupiters. He said,

“These new results are immediately useful for interpreting what we see in hot Jupiter atmospheres. We’ve assumed that temperature dominates the chemistry in these atmospheres, but this shows we need to look at how radiation plays a role.”

Future Prospects

The James Webb Space Telescope of NASA is expected to launch in 2021 and scientists are hopeful that advanced missions like these will allow them to capture chemical profiles of exoplanet atmospheres. It will help them to figure out how different or similar they are to our own. The hardware used in this experiment has the capability to simulate exoplanet atmospheres at even higher temperatures (up to 1,600o C). Consequently, the researchers of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are confident that they will continue to create an alien atmosphere in the future. Bryana Henderson, another Co-author of the study, talked about that in the following words:

“We’re still learning how to push these boundaries while safely handling these chemical processes in the lab. But at the end of the day, the exciting results that come out of these experiments is worth all the extra effort.”

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