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Heaviest element yet detected on exoplanet where scientists say it could rain sapphires and rubies

Heaviest element yet detected on exoplanet where scientists say it could rain sapphires and rubies

It's causing rain that sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie

The heaviest element in the periodic table has just been discovered by scientists in two exoplanets, where it could rain iron and jewels.

While this rain discovery might sound like the stuff of science fiction, barium is very much a real element - more specifically, the 56th member of the periodic table.

Its presence in the exoplanets WASP-76 b and WASP-121 b was discovered thanks to the aid of a large telescope, which made the unbelievable discovery about their rain.

As reported by Live Science, it is believed that it rains iron on WASP-76b and sapphires and rubies on WASP-121b - specifically to its right side.

However, while this discovery is incredible in and of itself, it's also left researchers stumped as barium is two and a half times heavier than iron, and they therefore have no idea why it exists so high up in these planets' atmospheres.

The lead author of the study that made the discovery, Tomás Azevedo Silva, said in a statement: "The puzzling and counterintuitive part is: why is there such a heavy element in the upper layers of the atmosphere of these planets?"

"Given the high gravity of the planets, we would expect heavy elements like barium to quickly fall into the lower layers of the atmosphere," Olivier Demangeon, a co-author and researcher, added.

It's amazing to think there's planets where it rains jewels.
Alamy/Dennis Hallinan

In a nutshell, there's a lot more work to be done when it comes to understanding these planets, which exist extremely close to their stars.

To put it into context, they are even closer to their stars than Mercury is to the Sun.

"Being gaseous and hot, their atmospheres are very extended and are thus easier to observe and study than those of smaller or cooler planets," Demangeon explained.

However, given how far away these planets are, we think scientists can accept the limitations of human technology and research on this one.

WASP-121b is a whopping light-years away from our pale blue dot while WASP-76b is light-years away - so you can almost certainly forget wearing any jewels from these planets in your lifetime.

The discovery about their atmospheres was made in Chile using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

Some seriously clever science allowed scientists to detect the element by studying the light of their stars.

"This was in a way an 'accidental' discovery," Azevedo Silva added. "We were not expecting or looking for barium in particular and had to cross-check that this was actually coming from the planet since it had never been seen in any exoplanet before."

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Featured Image Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Topics: News, Science