On This Distant Planet, It Rains Rubies And Sapphires

On This Distant Planet, It Rains Rubies And Sapphires

Those with a taste for opulence would probably love to be caught outside during a storm on this planet 1,000 light years from Earth.

For the first time ever, researchers have managed to identify weather on a gas giant that lies outside of our solar system. 16 times larger than Earth, the planet HAT-P-7b is enthralled by powerful winds and its clouds are said to made up of a mineral that comes from… ruby and sapphire.

Precious clouds in a barren land

1,000 light years from here, violent storms rage on HAT-P-7b, reducing the possibility of the planet becoming home to any life form. The celestial body completes one lap around its host star every 2.2 days and as a result of this proximity, the planet always presents the same face it its parent star, similarly to the moon with Earth. This means that one of its surfaces is constantly illuminated (with an average temperature from 2.860K or around 2,600°C) whilst the other remains in the constant shadow.

But this isn’t the only thing that makes this planet unique. By analysing the light expelled by its atmosphere, researchers have made two surprising discoveries. The first, as we have already mentioned, are the clouds that are said to be made up of corundum, the second strongest mineral after diamond and which ruby and sapphire are varieties of. The second discovery is that the atmosphere on HAT-P-7b could change under the strength of its winds.

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Two very different sides

‘These results show that the strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the day side […] but they would evaporate quickly on the day side,’ explains David Armstrong, the main author of the study published in the Nature Astronomy journal.

‘The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up, then dying away.’ The spectacle is rather impressive, but quite short for a human observer. Sixteen times the size of Earth, the planet is also 500 times denser and would crush anyone in its atmosphere under the strength of its gravity.

So actually, maybe not such a great idea to take a stroll out in the rain here. 

• Abbie Marshall
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