Space & Innovation

Exoplanet Weather Report: Windy, With Clouds of Rubies and Sapphires

The so-called 'hot-Jupiter' planet is more than 1,000 light years away and appears to have clouds composed of the mineral corundum.

<p>University of Warwick/Mark Garlick</p>

For the first time, scientists have glimpsed the weather on a planet beyond the solar system and discovered its clouds are likely made from the same material that forms rubies and sapphires.

The study, published on Monday in Nature Astronomy, a new journal, is based on data collected by NASA's Kepler space telescope, which spent its primary mission looking for changes in the amount of light coming from target stars, information that could be a sign of a planet passing by, or transiting, relative to the telescope's line of sight.

The point of the mission was to get a sense of how many Earth-sized planets might exist in the solar system. But other stars fell into Kepler's view, including HAT-P-7b, a Jupiter-sized planet located so close to its parent star that its daytime temperatures reach 4,688 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Combining four years of Kepler observations with data from NASA's Spitzer infrared space observatory, University of Warwick physicist David Armstrong and colleagues were able to ferret out variations in the reflected light from HAT-P-7b which were caused by atmospheric wind speeds, resulting in the first exoplanet weather report.

"These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the dayside. The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up then dying away," Armstrong said in a statement.

"The clouds themselves would be visually stunning - likely made of up corundum, the mineral which forms rubies and sapphires," the University of Warwick added in a press release.

There's little chance for a visit, however. Not only is HAT-P-7b more than 1,000 light years away, its violent weather and searing temperatures make the planet quite uninhabitable.

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