Rock & Gem

A Planet that Rains Rubies? Totally Cool!


All planets have their own unique chemistrie­s and physical properties, but seldom does one catch your eye and take your breath away quite like planet WASP121b. Believe it or not, earth and planetary scientists think it might just rain rubies and sapphires!

Described in a recent issue of the journal Nature Astronomy as “a hot, giant exoplanet,” WASP-121b circles its star at a super-fast clip of 30 hours with one very hot side always facing the star. On that side, it’s hot enough to vaporize elements like titanium and aluminum—two core constituen­ts of the mineral corundum, or aluminum oxide. Here on Earth, corundum comes in gemstones of varied colors that we call ruby and sapphire. Šomas Mikal-Evans (now at Še Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) believes winds blow titanium, aluminum and other elemental droplets to the cold dark side of the planet, where they coalesce to fall as liquid metal and corundum.

Now THAT’S a planet worth exploring! There’s just one problem: WASP-121b resides some 850 light-years away. Še observatio­ns and conclusion­s were made by a Massachuse­tts Institute of Technology team utilizing the Hubble Space Telescope. Še team has since made arrangemen­ts with the new James Webb Space Telescope to study WASP-121b in even more detail, so stay tuned for more riches to come!

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