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, according to new research.
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 that show WASP-121b has become increasingly weird 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 the perpetual night facing 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 atmosphere and exotic weather using the Hubble Space Telescope.
severe water cycle
On Earth, water evaporates and its vapor condenses in clouds minus rain. In WASP-121b, water goes through a treadmill.
Water atoms disintegrate due to the high temperatures that the planet experiences throughout the day. These atoms are blown to the night side by winds of more than 11,000 miles per hour (17,703 kilometers per hour). There, the molecules combine again to form water before being pushed to the side of the day again.
“This wind is much faster than our jet stream and can probably move clouds across the 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 of iron and corundum. Corundum is a mineral found in sapphires and sapphires.
Like the water vapor circulating in WASP-121b, these mineral clouds can be propelled throughout 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 have a global meteorological view of exoplanets,” said study senior author Thomas Michael Evans, head of the research group 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 for a small part due to the challenging nature of the observations,” he said. “We are now moving beyond simply taking isolated images of specific regions of an exoplanet’s atmosphere, to studying them as three-dimensional systems as they really are.”
Michael Evans led the study while he was a postdoctoral student at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at MIT.
The results also reveal the huge differences in day and night temperatures on the planet, which the team identified by tracking the water cycle on WASP-121b.
Throughout the day, temperatures start at 4,040 degrees Fahrenheit (2227 degrees Celsius) in the deepest layer of the atmosphere and reach 5,840 degrees Fahrenheit (3,227 degrees Celsius) in the upper layer. At night, things are much cooler and inverse, 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.
“Coffee trailblazer. Social media ninja. Unapologetic web guru. Friendly music fan. Alcohol fanatic.”