New planet discovered: An inferno world with titanium skies

A team of astronomers led by Elyar Sedaghati, an ESO fellow and recent graduate of TU Berlin, has examined the atmosphere of the exoplanet [WASP-19b] in greater detail than ever before. This remarkable planet has about the same mass as Jupiter, but is so close to its parent star that it completes an orbit in just 19 hours and its atmosphere is estimated to have a temperature of about 2000 degrees Celsius.

An artist’s impression showing the exoplanet WASP-19b, in which atmosphere astronomers detected titanium oxide for the first time. In large enough quantities, titanium oxide can prevent heat from entering or escaping an atmosphere, leading to a thermal inversion — the temperature is higher in the upper atmosphere and lower further down, the opposite of the normal situation. CREDIT ESO/M. Kornmesser

As WASP-19b passes in front of its parent star, some of the starlight passes through the planet’s atmosphere and leaves subtle fingerprints in the light that eventually reaches Earth. By using the FORS2instrument on the Very Large Telescope the team was able to carefully analyse this light and deduce that the atmosphere contained small amounts of titanium oxide, water and traces of sodium, alongside a strongly scattering global haze.

“Detecting such molecules is, however, no simple feat,” explains Elyar Sedaghati, who spent 2 years as ESO student to work on this project. “Not only do we need data of exceptional quality, but we also need to perform a sophisticated analysis. We used an algorithm that explores many millions of spectra spanning a wide range of chemical compositions, temperatures, and cloud or haze properties in order to draw our conclusions.”

Titanium oxide is rarely seen on Earth. It is known to exist in the atmospheres of cool stars. In the atmospheres of hot planets like WASP-19b, it acts as a heat absorber. If present in large enough quantities, these molecules prevent heat from entering or escaping through the atmosphere, leading to a thermal inversion — the temperature is higher in the upper atmosphere and lower further down, the opposite of the normal situation. Ozone plays a similar role in Earth’s atmosphere, where it causes inversion in the stratosphere.

“The presence of titanium oxide in the atmosphere of WASP-19b can have substantial effects on the atmospheric temperature structure and circulation.” explains Ryan MacDonald, another team member and an astronomer at Cambridge University, United Kingdom. “To be able to examine exoplanets at this level of detail is promising and very exciting.” adds Nikku Madhusudhan from Cambridge University who oversaw the theoretical interpretation of the observations.

The astronomers collected observations of WASP-19b over a period of more than one year. By measuring the relative variations in the planet’s radius at different wavelengths of light that passed through the exoplanet’s atmosphere and comparing the observations to atmospheric models, they could extrapolate different properties, such as the chemical content, of the exoplanet’s atmosphere.

This new information about the presence of metal oxides like titanium oxide and other substances will allow much better modeling of exoplanet atmospheres. Looking to the future, once astronomers are able to observe atmospheres of possibly habitable planets, the improved models will give them a much better idea of how to interpret those observations.

“This important discovery is the outcome of a refurbishment of the FORS2 instrument that was done exactly for this purpose,” adds team member Henri Boffin, from ESO, who led the refurbishment project. “Since then, FORS2 has become the best instrument to perform this kind of study from the ground.”


More information

This research was presented in the paper entitled “Detection of titanium oxide in the atmosphere of a hot Jupiter” by Elyar Sedaghati et. al. to appear in Nature.

Research paper in Nature –

58 thoughts on “New planet discovered: An inferno world with titanium skies

  1. That atmospheric titanium must be from vapourised hip and knee replacemements of all the arthritic old folks who’se driving round in SUVs caused all that Waspal warming.
    It’s worse than we thought. We must act now.

    • but is so close to its parent star that it completes an orbit in just 19 hours

      Anyone care to convert that orbital speed to MPH or MPS?

      • Sure, supply me with some orbital data like orbit radius. The math is simple geometry.
        Given the masses one could determine the relative velocities of both the star and its planet(s) about their common rotation point.
        Or we could simply look up the Wiki page:
        and see that it zips along at 227 km/s which yields an orbital radius of about 11,000 km.

      • Yikes, you don’t even have to be yourself (rocket scientist) to find this stuff out. But thanks for looking it up.

      • @rocketscientist – oops, hit a few wrong calculator buttons there…
        11,000 kilometers didn’t sound right, so I converted to 11 megameters – nope, still strange. So, looked up the Wiki. 2.41 to 2.49 gigameter orbit. Hmm. Lessee, 247 km/s is right for orbital speed, times the slightly less than 19 hour period, divide by 2 pi – yep, 2.46 gigameter orbital radius.

  2. “Titanium oxide is rarely seen on Earth. “

    No it is seem every day by billions of people: it covers most commercial aircraft and is in the coating of thousands pharmaceutical pills.
    It would probably be accurate to say the most people in the US see it *every day*.

    • The element occurs within a number of mineral deposits, principally rutile and ilmenite, which are widely distributed in the Earth’s crust and lithosphere, and it is found in almost all living things, water bodies, rocks, and soils. The metal is extracted from its principal mineral ores by the Kroll and Hunter processes. The most common compound, titanium dioxide, is a popular photocatalyst and is used in the manufacture of white pigments.
      — Wikipedia

      Common enough, just not in the atmosphere!

      • SMC September 14, 2017 at 3:11 am
        The article is talking about TiO, not TiO2.

        Good point. link

        Evidence has been obtained for the presence of the diatomic molecule TiO in the interstellar medium.[4] TiO shows strong bands in the optical spectra of cool (M-type) stars.

        They are squeezing the instrument and data really hard. There’s plenty of opportunity for errors to creep in.
        Given that the planet is so close to its sun, and therefore very hot, I wonder if it’s possible for it to be exothermic. link

      • I used to work for a company that made the racks that go inside your dishwasher. Most were tinted with TiO2.
        Of course the receiving employees marked the boxes of raw powder with that tint as ‘Tit’

      • Greg61, a number of my artist friends refer to their titanium white paint as “tit white”. Some of them think itat is a hoot.

    • It would probably make a great covering for a dyson sphere.
      rather than putting the sphere far enough out in orbit so that it can absorb all the star’s output, put it close enough so that it just needs to deflect enough to maintain conditions inside. It would be much smaller and take less resources to construct that way.

    • TiO is a common compound used for pigmentation in many applications. Actually our Moon contains a good bit of titanium oxide, as does earths crust.

      • If I remember correctly, the samples also included some of the “exotic” titanium-oxygen combinations, with multiple Ti and several O.
        I approach PR releases that use any chemical terminology with great caution. “Titanium oxide” is used for just about any compound with titanium and oxygen in it, whatever the actual composition.

    • But we could send some cold blooded conservatives and let them chill it down to the temperature of Jupiter. Make a giant red spot with them.

  3. leading to a thermal inversion — the temperature is higher in the upper atmosphere and lower further down, the opposite of the normal situation. Ozone plays a similar role in Earth’s atmosphere, where it causes inversion in the stratosphere.

    And what is the knock on effect at ground level, of changes in the temperature of the stratosphere caused by fluctuations in the amount and presence of Ozone?

  4. This should be kept quiet, otherwise once the CO2 “problem” is universally recognised for the scam it actually is, the scammers will want money to research climate change caused by TiO and once again we will have to listen to the endless repetition of “It’s worse than we thought!”.

  5. Please can we be precise with chemical terminology.
    Titanium as in the header implies the metal.
    Titanium monoxide is the metal bound to a minimum of titanium, notably 1:1 but is more variable in ratio when synthesised. Can be made and studied above about 1500 deg C.
    Titanium dioxide is the stable form most abundant on earth, relatively common in minerals like Rutile and with iron added for Ilmenite, pseudo Brookite etc.
    Titanium dioxide was marketed as “the whitest white” and is used especially in paints.
    The properties of titanium, titanium monoxide and titanium dioxide are so different that the reference to detection in space loses meaning unless the pertinent one is named. Geoff.

  6. oh come on, that is no science … they collected data for over a year then compared it to millions of spectra to come up with their theory … No you start with a theory THEN you find the data to support it … amateurs (/sarc>

    • Kaiser Derden – I know were being sarcastic, but your thought dovetails with my question:
      These scientists can detect and measure the atmosphere of distant planets, but no one has yet to detect nor provide a method of measuring any heat trapped by the 95% CO2 atmosphere of the near planet Mars.
      Is that an example of a theory that has no supporting data?

      • Possible reasons why we haven’t measured the heat trapped by Mars’ 95% CO2 atmosphere:
        1- because it can’t be measured – which means there is no ‘Greenhouse Gas’ physical property
        2 – it can be measured but we choose not to measure it
        3 – no one has considered measuring it (even if we don’t know how)
        Which reason does NASA publish?

      • Steven Mosher :
        co2 doesnt trap heat.
        its not how ghgs work.
        What can we measure to see how GHGs work? Are we currently measuring that on Mars? If not, why not?
        I’ve been told that Mars is warmer now than if its atmosphere consisted of an equal mass of nitrogen in lieu of the CO2. Do you agree with that?

      • Water vapor is the GHG you can observe at work in the atmosphere. The others are so slight that they have a so-far undocumented observed natural effect on weather (which in multidecadal retrospect is referred to as climate).

  7. Bob September 14, 2017 at 3:42 am asked
    H2O at 2,000 Celsius? Would the H and O be still together at that temperature
    H20 dissociates around 2800 C (heat of formation equilibria), so it would still be around.
    At around 4000 C the H2 would break down into atomic hydrogen as would the O2
    We had the fun time playing with an attempt to fix nitrogen for Norsk hydro with a vortex stabilized plasma torch about 50 years ago. Running temperature was 25,000 C (5 times surface temperature of the sun). Hot enough to break the triple bond that makes N2 so stable.

  8. WOW! And we struggle to feed ourselves and still like to throw sticks and rocks. All for exploration, and cheap abundant energy has powered that, but puhlease I can’t eat distant planets.

    • Jean,
      Wouldn’t it just be easier to speed up the rotation of the Earth so we don’t get 12 hours of darkness that allows the planet to cool itself?? 🙂

  9. A Hellen Keller planet. Sounds like it could support life, down in some liquid layer, but even if it evolved intelligence it could never learn about or reach beyond its own planet, with light blocked by an unreachable atmosphere and too much gravity to even stand up, never mind escape. Unless it was contacted from outside. Then they could learn everything.

    • Let’s visit Mr. Whoopee and use the wayback machine to find out.
      Or, you might check old newspaper archives from that sector.

      • Um…The wayback machine belonged to Mr. Peabody (and Sherman).
        Dr. Whoopee sold condoms for Garry Trudeau.

      • See, that’s what happens when they take Bullwinkle off TV. Old farts get the story wrong. I got a Tenessee Tuxedo character confused with the earlier Sherman and Peabody cartoons. Some jokes fall flat before the punchline.

  10. There seems to be some real science going on here. Not nearly enough unqualified hyperbole and baseless assertions.
    Joe Romm won’t like it at all.

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