NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has made another startling discovery.
The leading observatory stared straight into the giant’s atmosphere exoplanet With two suns (like Tatooine from “Star Wars”) known as VHS 1256 b (Opens in a new tab) —and they found a wandering world with turbulent clouds made of silicate, sand-like here on Earth, announced in a recent article in Astrophysical Journal Letters (Opens in a new tab).
This report on extrasolar weather is unpleasant but interesting JWSTUnique ability to collect details Spectra of objects in space, allowing scientists to discover their compositions. Although JWST He showed us the spectra of exoplanets before (Opens in a new tab)This is the first time it has done so by collecting light from the planet itself, in a method known as direct imaging.
Related: 12 amazing discoveries made by the James Webb Space Telescope
VHS 1256b is located 40 light-years from Earth. It is a strange world, unlike our blue planet. It’s about 19 times more massive than Jupiter, for example, orbits two stars instead of one, and takes about 10,000 years to orbit those host stars.
“VHS 1256 b is about four times farther from its stars than Pluto is from our sun, which makes it a great target for Webb,” said Brittany Miles, a University of Arizona astrophysicist and lead author of the new study. In a press release (Opens in a new tab). “This means that the light of the planet does not mix with the light of its stars.”
The spectra showed signs of clouds made of silicate, periodically raining down deep into the planet, and moving in a flame-hot atmosphere, about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (815 degrees Celsius). Silicate clouds have no equivalent here on Earth, other than perhaps in a cloud of hot sand.
“The fine silicate grains in its atmosphere may be more like tiny particles in smoke,” University of Edinburgh astrophysicist Beth Beller, who is part of the research team, said in the news release. “The larger grains may be like very hot and very small sand particles.”
The team also detected water, methane, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide on VHS 1256b — a whole host of different chemicals, making this “the largest number of molecules ever identified at once on a planet outside our solar system,” according to the press release. The team is still working to sort through all of those detected particles, revising their models for the stormy atmosphere on this exoplanet.
“It’s not the last word on this planet,” Miles said. “It is the beginning of a large-scale modeling effort to fit Webb’s complex data.”
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