CRAZY SPACE WEATHER
New ultrasharp telescopes will help scientists understand:
Other worlds may not have a climate quite as nice as Earth. Not nice, as in, raining glass or molten iron. Find out why (and how) this can be possible.
In recent years, astronomers have discovered hundreds of new planets. As they are located billions of km from Earth, scientists used to know nothing about them, but new powerful telescopes have spotted enigmatic worlds, where ruby clouds and glass storms might be as common as a little light rain here on Earth.
The early morning will be cloudy, possibly with showers of molten i ron. In the afternoon, temperatures will rise by 700 degrees, and the night is going to be windy with wind gusts of up to 10,000 km/h. This is what the weather forecast is like on some of the planets that scientists have spotted outside the Solar System in recent decades. Known as exoplanets, they orbit stars billions of km from Earth, and for years, astronomers have been unable to make out much more than their sizes, weights, and distances to their stars.
But in recent years, a new generation of sophisticated telescopes have provided astronomers with new insight into the remote exoplanets, and armed with new methods, they can now accurately calculate what the foreign worlds look like. And with glass storms, lightabsorbing atmospheres, and ruby clouds, they are nothing like Earth.
Space weather forecasts
Astronomers have discovered some 3,500 planets that orbit distant stars, but bearing the immense cosmic distances in mind, existing technologies will not allow us to land a spacecraft on a remote planet in the next couple of decades nor will a telescope be able to take direct pictures of the worlds. So, astronomers have found new ways to find out, whether the worlds are similar to Solar System planets concerning makeup, atmospheric conditions, etc. – and, more importantly, is there life on the exoplanets?
When astronomers detect exoplanets, it is usually by means of the transit method. A telescope observes the star’s light over a period of time, and if the light is repeatedly reduced, it is an indication that a planet is orbiting the star, blocking out some of the light at regular intervals, as it passes in front of the star.
Astronomers use the same principle, also known as transmission spectroscopy, when they study exoplanet weather. When the exoplanet passes in front of its star, it is substantially illuminated from the back. As molecules refract the light differently, scientists who take a look at how the light is affected by the planet’s atmosphere can see exactly which molecules – such as iron – it contains. The atmospheric pressure is calculated by observing its extent. A dense atmosphere, in which the pressure is high, does not extend as far from the surface as a thin atmosphere with a low pressure. Scientists calculate the temperature based on the host star’s temperature and the distance from the star to the exoplanet.