NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has discovered silicate cloud features on a distant planet’s atmosphere, as phys.org reveals. The planet’s name is VHS 1256 b, and the atmosphere rises, mixes, and moves during its 22-hour day, causing dramatic brightness changes that make it the most variable planetary-mass object known.
Webb’s data revealed detections of water, methane, carbon monoxide, and evidence of carbon dioxide, the most extensive number of molecules ever identified on a planet outside our solar system. The planet orbits two stars, and its silicate clouds can remain higher in the atmosphere due to its low gravity. The team analyzed data known as spectra gathered by NIRSpec and MIRI instruments aboard Webb. They observed VHS 1256 b as part of Webb’s Early Release Science program, helping transform the ability of the astronomical community to characterize planets and the disks where they are born.
Brittany Miles from the University of Arizona, the leader of the research team, explained, as phys.org quotes:
We’ve identified silicates, but better understanding which grain sizes and shapes match specific types of clouds is going to take a lot of additional work,
This is not the final word on this planet—it is the beginning of a large-scale modeling effort to fit Webb’s complex data.
The James Webb Telescope is like your trusty backyard telescope on steroids. It’s got the power to peer deeper into the universe than any other telescope before it, and it’s so advanced, it can even see through dust and gas clouds to capture images of stars and galaxies that were previously invisible to us mere mortals.
To give you an idea of just how powerful this bad boy is, imagine you’re at a party and someone across the room catches your eye. You can kind of make out their face, but you can’t see the details very clearly. Now, imagine you whip out your James Webb Telescope and take a closer look. Suddenly, you can see every wrinkle, every freckle, every hair on their head. That’s the kind of detail we’re talking about here.
The new study was published in arXiv.