Science

Study provides first exoplanet weather report on gas giant

A new study has found that HAT-P-7b has clouds made up of the same mineral that produces sapphires and rubies.

Wicked winds and searing temperatures make this planet not so human-friendly

An artist's impression of planet HAT-P-7b. (University of Warwick/Mark Garlick)

It's always a bad weather day on HAT-P-7b.

This exoplanet — a gas giant that lies 1,040 light-years from Earth — is plagued by strong winds, likely producing "catastrophic" storms, a new study suggests. It's the first time astronomers have provided a picture of weather on a gas giant, a planet several times larger than Jupiter.

"These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the dayside," researcher David Armstrong said in a statement. "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 the solar system."

Using light reflected off the planet's atmosphere, researchers from the University of Warwick in England found that the brightest point on the planet changes position. This, they believe, is due to an equatorial jet with ever-changing wind speeds, which — when moving at top speed — move massive amount of clouds across the entire planet. 

But those clouds would be beautiful. the Armstrong says: they're made up of corundum, the mineral that makes sapphires and rubies.

If we're ever able to travel to far away star systems, we can forget about landing on HAT-P-7b. Aside from its unpleasant winds, the temperature would be sizzling. The planet is tidally locked with its star HAT-P-7, meaning one side is constantly facing the star (much like one side of the moon is always facing us), producing an average day side temperature near 2,587 C.

HAT-P-7b was discovered in 2008 and is 16 times larger than Earth and about 543 times more massive  Its parent star is twice as large as our sun and can be found in the constellation Cygnus.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Mortillaro

Senior Reporter, Science

Nicole has an avid interest in all things science. As an amateur astronomer, Nicole can be found looking up at the night sky appreciating the marvels of our universe. She is the editor of the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the author of several books.

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