FIRST EXOPLANET WEATHER REPORT REVEALS VAST CLOUDS OF RUBIES AND SAPPHIRES
This really is a gem of a planet. A gas giant, located more than 100 light-years away and 16 times the size of Earth, has an atmosphere filled with giant swirling clouds containing the building blocks of rubies and sapphires, a team at the University of Warwick has found.
After combing through data sent back by NASA’s Kepler mission, the team found that the light reflected from planet HAT-P-7b changed over time, which is an indicator of the presence of strong winds blowing the atmosphere across the planet’s surface.
The planet is so close to its host star that it completes its orbit in around two days. It is also tidally locked, meaning the same side always faces the star. This allows surface temperatures on the dayside of the planet to soar to over 2,500°C. The researchers believe the atmosphere is made up of corundum, a mineral involved in the formation of rubies and sapphires, as it has a very similar boiling point.
“We expect clouds to form on the cold nightside of the planet, but they would evaporate quickly on the hot dayside,” said researcher David Armstrong, a member of the university’s Astrophysics Group. “These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the nightside 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 our own Solar System.”