FIRST EX­O­PLANET WEATHER REPORT RE­VEALS VAST CLOUDS OF RU­BIES AND SAPPHIRES

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

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.”

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