According to new research, a massive gas giant orbiting a star about 855 light-years from Earth, WASP-121b may contain mineral clouds and rain made of liquid gemstones.
First discovered in 2015, the planet is considered an extremely hot planet similar to Jupiter because it is much hotter and has a greater mass and diameter than the largest planet in our solar system.
Since then, researchers have made discoveries showing that WASP-121b has gotten more and more exotic as they learn.
Every 30 hours, WASP-121b completes an orbit and gradually closes, just like the Moon does with the Earth. This means that one side of the planet, in addition to the day, always faces the star. The other side lives perpetual night in front of the space.
Study co-author Tansu Dylan, a postdoctoral researcher in astrophysics at MIT, said in a statement.
Now, astronomers have studied both sides of the planet to better understand the strange atmosphere and climate using the Hubble Space Telescope.
severe water cycle
On Earth, water evaporates and its vapor condenses in clouds, then releases rain. In WASP-121b, water goes through a treadmill.
Water atoms disintegrate due to the high temperatures that the planet experiences during the day. These atoms are carried to the night side by winds of over 11,000 miles per hour (17,703 kilometers per hour). There, the molecules fuse again to form water before being pushed back to the side of the day.
“This wind is much faster than our jet stream and can probably move clouds over the entire planet in about 20 hours,” Dylan said. He previously studied the planet using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission.
Temperature differences between the two sides of the planet also mean that the night side is cold enough to form metallic clouds made of iron and corundum. Corundum is a mineral found in sapphires and sapphires.
Just like the water vapor circulating on WASP-121b, these mineral clouds can be pushed out during the day as the minerals evaporate into gases. But before the clouds leave the night, they can release rain made of liquid gems.
“With this observation, we really get a global meteorological view of exoplanets,” said study senior author Thomas Michael Evans, lead research team at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.
“Although thousands of exoplanets have been discovered, we have only been able to study their atmospheres to a small extent due to the challenging nature of the observations,” he said. “Now we’re going beyond just taking isolated snapshots of specific regions of an exoplanet’s atmosphere to study them as 3D systems as they really are.”
Michael Evans led the study when he was a postdoctoral student at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at MIT.
The results also reveal the huge temperature differences between day and night on the planet, which the team identified by observing the water cycle on WASP-121b.
Daytime temperatures start at 4,040°F (2,227°C) in the deepest layer of the atmosphere and reach 5,840°F (3,227°C) in the upper layer. At night, things are much cooler and reverse, with a maximum temperature of 2,780 degrees Fahrenheit (1,527 degrees Celsius) and a dip of 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit (1,227 degrees Celsius) in the upper atmosphere.
Astronomers will observe WASP-121b later this year using the James Webb Space Telescope.
Study co-author Joanna Barstow, a researcher at the Open University in the UK, said in a statement.
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