The Webb Telescope Has Observed a Planet With Weather So Extreme That Clouds Are Made of Rock and Nights Reach 1112 Degrees Fahrenheit

  • Exoplanet WASP-43b is surprisingly close to its star.

  • Its 5,000 mile-per-hour winds cause molten-rock showers.

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The James Webb Space Telescope has provided astronomers with a surprising weather forecast for a nearby exoplanet, WASP-43b.

A Jupiter-style planet close to its star. Located 283 light-years from Earth, WASP-43b is a “hot Jupiter” type of exoplanet, or a planet similar in size to Jupiter but orbiting very close to its star.

The exoplanet is situated “only” 1.3 million miles from its star, completing an orbit in just 19 Earth hours and experiencing wind gusts of 5,000 miles per hour. However, that’s not the main issue here.

Extreme weather conditions. WASP-43b’s proximity to its star has caused it to be tidally locked. This means one side of the planet is permanently facing the star, resulting in a scorching temperature of nearly 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, while the other side experiences an eternal night with temperatures around 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why is it so hot at night? It’s because of the presence of supersonic winds. These winds transport vaporized material, such as molten rock, from the planet’s day side to the night side. The material then cools and condenses into liquid droplets, forming clouds of molten rock that can be observed through the Webb telescope.

The space telescope has also made it possible to characterize the planet’s atmospheric composition. It has confirmed not only the presence of water vapor on both sides but also the absence of methane. Winds prevent the formation of this gas, which is very common on hot Jupiter-like planets.

Strange planets. The Webb team used its mid-infrared camera (MIRI) to observe light variations on both sides of the inhospitable planet and then followed up with the near-infrared spectrometer (NIRSpec).

These findings demonstrate once again how truly strange planets outside our solar system can be. The Webb telescope has also found planets covered with boiling water and planets that are as light-as-cotton-candy.

Image | ESO

Related | The James Webb Telescope Just Opened a Window to a Key Moment in the History of the Universe: The Birth of the First Galaxies

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