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A recent study has revealed surprising discoveries about a distant exoplanet known as WASP-107 b, using data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope. This research marks the first time that an exoplanet’s core mass has been measured, providing valuable insights into planetary atmospheres and interiors. The planet, located about 200 light-years away, is described as a fluffy, cotton candy-like giant with a core that is 12 times more massive than Earth’s and contains a thousand times less methane than expected.

Despite having methane in its atmosphere, WASP-107 b is not considered habitable due to its close proximity to its parent star and the lack of a solid surface. However, it presents an opportunity to study late-stage planetary evolution. Other scientists have also observed the planet using the Webb Telescope, uncovering similar insights regarding its size, density, and chemical composition. The research aims to shed light on how planetary atmospheres behave under extreme conditions, with the team planning to study an additional 25 planets using similar observations.

The low levels of methane on WASP-107 b are attributed to a complex chemical process transforming the molecule into other compounds as it rises through the planet’s atmosphere. This interaction with other chemicals and starlight results in the production of sulfur dioxide, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide, indicating the presence of heavy elements on the planet. Understanding these chemical reactions is crucial for studying rocky planets and searching for biomarker signatures in the future.

The research team speculates that the planet’s inflated radius is due to a hot core causing changes in the gases’ chemistry deep within the planet, leading to increased levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. By combining atmospheric and interior physics models with data from the Webb Telescope, the researchers have been able to explore how the planet’s internal heat influences its observable atmosphere. This offers valuable insights into the connection between the interior of an exoplanet and its outer atmosphere.

Future studies will focus on investigating the mechanisms that keep the core of WASP-107 b hot, with the possibility of forces similar to those causing tides on Earth being at play. By exploring how the planet may be affected by gravitational forces exerted by its star, researchers hope to gain further understanding of the planet’s unique characteristics. The study underscores the importance of continued exploration of exoplanets and their atmospheres in the search for habitable worlds beyond our solar system.

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