Heavy metal out there: Researchers detect barium in atmospheres of 2 exoplanets

Source: The post is based on the article “Heavy metal out there: Researchers detect barium in atmospheres of 2 exoplanets” published in Down To Earth on 16th October 2022.

What is the News?

Scientists have detected barium in the upper atmosphere of two giant exoplanets for the first time.

Which are those two exoplanets where scientists have detected barium?

The exoplanets are two ultra-hot Jupiters — WASP-76b and WASP-121b — which orbit their host stars WASP 76 and WASP 121.

The former is about 640 light-years away from the Earth and the latter around 900 light-years away. Both WASP-76b and WASP-121b complete one orbit in two days.

Surface temperatures in these bodies reach as high as 1,000 degrees Celsius. These bodies have unique features owing to their high temperatures. For instance, WASP-76b experiences iron rain.

The presence of hydrogen, lithium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, vanadium, chromium, manganese and iron in the atmosphere of the WASP-76 b has also been confirmed in addition to barium.

In WASP 121b, they confirmed the presence of lithium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, vanadium, chromium, manganese, iron and nickel.

Additionally, the scientists found elements such as cobalt and strontium. They also found indications of titanium in the exoplanet.

What is the significance of these findings?

Barium two and half times heavier than iron is the heaviest-ever detected element in the upper atmosphere.

This is surprising because heavy elements like barium are expected to quickly fall into the lower layers of the atmosphere given these exoplanets have high gravity,

What is Barium?

Barium is a silvery-white metal which exists in nature only in ores containing mixtures of elements. 

It combines with other chemicals such as sulfur or carbon and oxygen to form barium compounds.

Applications: Barium is often used in barium-nickel alloys for spark-plug electrodes and in vacuum tubes as drying and oxygen-removing agents. 

– It is also used in fluorescent lamps: impure barium sulfide phosphoresces after exposure to the light.

– Barium compounds are used by the oil and gas industries to make drilling mud. Drilling mud simplifies drilling through rocks by lubricating the drill.

– Barium compounds are also used to make paint, bricks, tiles, glass, and rubber. Barium nitrate and chlorate give fireworks a green colour.

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