We present a primary transit observation for the ultra hot (Teq~2400K) gas giant expolanet WASP-121b, made using the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 in spectroscopic mode across the 1.12-1.64 micron wavelength range. The 1.4 micron water absorption band is detected at high confidence (5.4 sigma) in the planetary atmosphere. We also reanalyze ground-based photometric lightcurves taken in the B, r', and z' filters. Significantly deeper transits are measured in these optical bandpasses relative to the near-infrared wavelengths. We conclude that scattering by high-altitude haze alone is unlikely to account for this difference, and instead interpret it as evidence for titanium oxide and vanadium oxide absorption. Enhanced opacity is also inferred across the 1.12-1.3 micron wavelength range, possibly due to iron hydride absorption. If confirmed, WASP-121b will be the first exoplanet with titanium oxide, vanadium oxide, and iron hydride detected in transmission. The latter are important species in M/L dwarfs, and their presence is likely to have a significant effect on the overall physics and chemistry of the atmosphere, including the production of a strong thermal inversion.
Bibliographical noteApJL accepted
Evans, T. M., Sing, D. K., Wakeford, H. R., Nikolov, N., Ballester, G. E., Drummond, B., Kataria, T., Gibson, N. P., Amundsen, D. S., & Spake, J. (2016). Detection of H2O and evidence for TiO/VO in an ultra hot exoplanet atmosphere. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 822(1). https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8205/822/1/L4