A planet with extreme seasons and aluminium rain sounds like something from the pages of a science fiction novel – but this is the reality on newly discovered exoplanet TOI-3362 b.
Scientists at USQ, including graduate student Alexis Heitzmann and astrophysics lecturer Dr George Zhou, were among the team of international researchers working to piece together the nature of this gas giant.
Led by Pennsylvania State University graduate Jiayin Dong, the research centred on the planet’s unusual elliptical orbit of a nearby star, a phenomenon only seen in action twice before.
Unlike planets which follow a circular orbit, TOI-3362 b’s highly elliptical trajectory results in dramatic temperature changes over a year on the planet, which is only 18.1 days long.
“The planet experiences a surface temperature of more than 2200 degrees in the summer and its winters are, in contrast, only around 500 degrees,” Mr Heitzmann said.
“Due to this extreme difference of temperature on the planet, aluminium present in TOI-3362 b’s atmosphere evaporates, forming clouds in summer which rain down in winter.
USQ’s MINERVA-Australis facility at Mount Kent Observatory was instrumental in the planet’s discovery, providing a significant portion of the observations for the study.
USQ is in partnership with NASA JPL to provide the US astronomical community with access to MINERVA-Australis. Running Australia’s only set of telescopes dedicated to studying planets around other stars and collaborating with colleagues at the Pennsylvania State University, USQ discovered the planet TOI-3362 b using NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite space telescope.
In the far future, TOI-3362 b is expected to become a “hot Jupiter,” a Jupiter-sized planet located extremely close to its host star, which it will completely orbit every few days.