A nearby planet smells like rotten eggs

A strange feature has been revealed hiding in the atmosphere of an exoplanet notorious for its dangerous weather, just 64.5 light-years from Earth.

In a new study conducted by Johns Hopkins University using data from the James Webb Space Telescope, scientists have discovered that a nearby exoplanet smells like rotten eggs.

The study suggests that the atmosphere of exoplanet HD 189733 b, a gas giant about the size of Jupiter, contains trace amounts of hydrogen sulfide.

Not only does the molecule stink, it’s also giving scientists new clues about how sulfur, a planetary building block, affects the interiors and atmospheres of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system).

The planet is about 13 times closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun, so it takes just two Earth days to complete one orbit.

It is known for its extreme weather, with temperatures reaching as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, winds reaching up to 5,000 miles per hour and winds blowing like glass rain from the side.

“Hydrogen sulfide is a major molecule that we didn’t even know existed,” said study leader Guangwei Hu, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in the US. “We expected it to exist, and we know it’s on Jupiter, but it hasn’t really been detected outside our solar system yet. We’re not looking for life on this planet because it’s too hot, but finding hydrogen sulfide is a stepping stone to finding this molecule on other planets and getting a better understanding of how different types of planets form.”

HD 189733 b is the closest “hot Jupiter” to Earth. Hot Jupiters are similar in shape to Jupiter, but have a much shorter orbit and closer to their star, which results in a hotter surface atmosphere.

Astronomers have been able to observe HD 189733 b as it passes in front of its host star, and since its discovery in 2005, the planet has become a benchmark for detailed studies of exoplanet atmospheres.

New data from the James Webb Space Telescope rules out the possibility of methane being present on HD 189733 b: “We had thought the planet was too hot for high concentrations of methane to exist, but now we know that’s not the case,” Fu explains.

Scientists now hope to track sulfur on more exoplanets and learn how high levels of this compound affect a planet’s distance from its host star.

The new study was published in the journal Nature.


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