As the vastness of space continues to be charted by scientists all over the globe, there’s still so much that they’re yet to find. Will there be both phenomena and mysteries that have never been witnessed by the human eye before? Or, could there be life and planets similar to Earth? Astronomers, for the first time, have detected earth-like particles in an exoplanet’s atmosphere.
Queen’s University Belfast researchers say that they found new chemical signatures from WASP-33b, an Earth-like planet. Using the high-caliber Subaru Telescope, the astronomers discovered hydroxyl radical, or OH, a common oxygen-bearing molecule.
Dr. Stevanus Nugroho, the lead researcher, confirmed that this was the first time signs of OH were found in an atmosphere beyond our Solar System. The doctor further stated that it shows astronomers can find these molecules in other exoplanet atmospheres as well as understand this planetary population’s chemistry.
Why is OH special?
In our atmosphere, OH is formed when atomic oxygen and water vapor react. As a result, these molecules play the role of “atmospheric detergents” to filter out harmful gases like carbon monoxide and methane.
However, WASP-33b isn’t the same as Earth. Not only is it a way hotter planet, but it’s much bigger as well. There’s also titanium oxide gas and iron in its atmosphere. The researchers that most of the hydroxyl radical found in the cloud layers in WASP-33b likely comes from water vapor destruction caused by the planet’s incredibly hot temperatures. Dr. Ernst de Mooij said that they were only able to weak and tentative water vapor signals. This supports the idea that the planet’s atmosphere destroys water to form hydroxyl.