Scientists from UK’s University of Warwick have just uncovered a unique planet blessed with the proverbial ‘shower’ of gemstones. Situated beyond our solar system some 1,000 light-years away from Earth, this ginormous, Jupiter-like celestial body is believed to be surrounded by clouds containing the same mineral that forms rubies and sapphires.
For the research, the team relied on a powerful Kepler space telescope to study the atmospheric conditions prevailing on HAT-P-7b, an enormous planet that is approximately 16 times larger than Earth and, nearly 40-percent larger than the biggest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. Discovered back in 2008 by a team of Japanese astronomers, it is known to revolve around a white dwarf called HAT-P-7.
Recently published in the Nature Astronomy journal, the current research reveals the strange weather conditions existing on this planet. According to the team, the clouds floating over it seem to be laden with large amounts of corundum, a type of crystalline aluminum oxide that produces precious stones, like rubies and sapphires. Additionally, the research marks the first time that scientists have come across complex weather systems on a giant gaseous planet outside our solar system.
Conducted over the course of four years, the study involved examining the light getting reflected from the planet’s highly-volatile atmosphere. During this period, the astronomers also monitored the changes that HAT-P-7b’s harsh weather, such as strong winds and very high temperatures, caused to its surface. Speaking about the findings, Dr. David Armstrong, a member of the research team, said:
Using the NASA Kepler satellite we were able to study light reflected from HAT-P-7b’s atmosphere, finding that the atmosphere was changing over time. HAT-P-7b is a tidally locked planet, with the same side always facing its star. We expect clouds to form on the cold night side of the planet, but they would evaporate quickly on the hot dayside. These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the dayside. The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up then dying away. This is the first detection of weather on a gas giant planet outside the solar system.
Source: University of Warwick