James Webb Space Telescope detects quartz crystals in the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-17 b

Quartz crystals (crystalline silica, SiO2) have been detected in the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-17 b by the James Webb Space Telescope. It is the first time ever that silica (SiO2) particles have been detected in an exoplanet atmosphere.

James Webb Space Telescope has detected crystalline silica in the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-17 b
James Webb Space Telescope has detected crystalline silica (SiO2) in the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-17 b. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, R. Crawford (STScI), D. Grant (University of Bristol), H. R. Wakeford (University of Bristol), N. Lewis (Cornell University))

Researchers have used the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) of James Webb Space Telescope to detect the evidence of quartz crystals in the atmosphere of exoplanet WASP-17 b.

The spectrograph of the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) covers the wavelength range from 5 to 28 microns and MIRI has found the clear evidence of quartz crystals (crystalline silica, SiO2) at around 8.6 microns.

Crystalline silica blocks some of the starlight (the light of WASP-17) when the light passes through the atmosphere of WASP-17 b.

Here the solid purple line is the best-fit model spectrum based on Webb (MIRI), Hubble, and Spitzer data.

Also, the dashed yellow line shows what the spectrum would look like if the atmosphere of WASP-17 b did not contain SiO2.

A scientific paper has been published regarding this topic on October 16, 2023 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We were thrilled!” the lead author, David Grant, of this paper said. “We knew from Hubble observations that there must be aerosols – tiny particles making up clouds or haze – in WASP-17 b’s atmosphere, but we didn’t expect them to be made of quartz.”

What is WASP-17 b?

WASP-17 b is a gas giant (like Jupiter) exoplanet that orbits a star named “WASP-17”. It is located about 1,300 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Scorpius. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits another star outside our solar system.

So it will take around 1300 years to travel the exoplanet WASP-17 b from our Earth with the speed of light, as one light-year is the distance traveled by light in one year in space.

Comparison of our Earth and the exoplanet WASP-17 b

Here are all the comparisons between our Earth and the exoplanet WASP-17 b:

FactsEarthWASP-17 b
TypeTerrestrial or rockyGas giant
Host starSunWASP-17
Orbital period365 days3.7 days
Distance from the host star1 AU0.0515 AU
Discovery dateAugust 11, 2009
MassEarth mass248 Earth mass
RadiusEarth radius21 Earth radius
Surface temperature288 K1740 K

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Ashim

Ashim Chandra Sarkar founded Space & Telescope in 2022. He holds a M.Sc. in physics and has five years of research experience in optical astronomy. His passion for astronomy inspired him to open this website. He is responsible for the editorial vision of spaceandtelescope.com.

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