By Aaron Kesel
Swiss and European astronomers have discovered the first known scorching hot exoplanet where clouds rain iron droplets approximately 390 light-years away from Earth.
The mega exoplanet has two sides one side is constantly night the other side is day, the scientists believe. According to the researchers, it’s always daytime on the star-facing side, with clear skies. And it’s always nighttime on the opposite end, where temperatures fall to about 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit (1,500 degrees Celsius) in which the sky is continually forecast with iron rain pouring down on the planet.
On the sunny side is so hot — 4,350 degrees Fahrenheit (2,400 degrees Celsius) — that iron vaporizes in the atmosphere. While on the opposite side of the planet, the scientists hypothesize that the iron likely condenses on the cooler night side of the planet, almost certainly turning into rain.
“Like droplets of metal falling from the sky,” said Christophe Lovis of the University of Geneva who took part in the study.
“It’s like in the heavy steel industry on Earth where they melt iron, and so you see this melting, flowing metal. That’s pretty much what we are talking about here,” Lovis told The Associated Press.
The planet, designated Wasp-76b, was discovered just a few years ago and is nearly double the size of Jupiter, one of the largest in our solar system. The planet’s rotation matches the time it takes to complete one orbit 2 days, while the same side always faces its star.
In addition to having a strange orbit constantly keeping one side at night and the other at day as a result of this phenomena, strong winds gust at more than 11,000 mph (18,000 kph) — constantly sweeping the vaporized iron from the day location of the planet to the night side. According to scientists inside the day-to-night transition, clouds which rain iron appear to form as temperatures begin to drop.
“Surprisingly, however, we do not see the iron vapor in the morning” as night transitions back into day, lead scientist David Ehrenreich of the University of Geneva said in a statement.
Science Daily reports:
On its day side, it receives thousands of times more radiation from its parent star than the Earth does from the Sun. It's so hot that molecules separate into atoms, and metals like iron evaporate into the atmosphere. The extreme temperature difference between the day and night sides results in vigorous winds that bring the iron vapour from the ultra-hot day side to the cooler night side, where temperatures decrease to around 1500 degrees Celsius.
The astronomers concluded the most likely explanation for this is that it rains iron on the night side.
"One could say that this planet gets rainy in the evening, except it rains iron," said Ehrenreich.
Ehrenreich and his team studied Wasp-76b and its extremely bizarre climate using a new ESPRESSO instrument tested on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile.
While vaporized iron previously has been detected at an even hotter, more distant Jupiter-like world, it’s believed to remain in a gaseous state around that entire planet, Lovis said. Adding, at Wasp-76b, this is the "first time iron condensation has been seen."
"The observations show that iron vapour is abundant in the atmosphere of the hot day side of WASP-76b," María Rosa Zapatero Osorio, an astrophysicist at the Centre for Astrobiology in Madrid, Spain, and the chair of the ESPRESSO science team said. "A fraction of this iron is injected into the night side owing to the planet's rotation and atmospheric winds. There, the iron encounters much cooler environments, condenses and rains down."
Researchers have discovered strange weather before; in fact, on Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune they stated it rains diamonds from the sky.
On the other end of habitable planets, scientists have previously discovered seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1 and announced the discovery of 60 other potentially livable planets. Another significant discovery worth mentioning - years ago scientists from the Complutense University of Madrid shockingly announced that they believe at least two planets exist beyond Pluto which they called ‘Extreme Trans-Neptunian Objects’ (ETNOs), adding that they are larger than Earth.
More recently in January, astronomers discovered TOI 700 d, only one hundred light years away, the first Earth-sized world with moderate temperatures found by NASA’s newest planet-hunting space telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), New Scientist reported. Then last month in February an astronomy student, Michelle Kunimoto, made a discovery of 17 new planets including one that is similar to Earth, KIC-7340288 b.
While Wasp-76b more than certainly won't house life, other planets like TOI 700 d and the other more than 60 planets may support alien life. Nonetheless, Wasp-76b is an incredible discovery for science showcasing the different types of climates that planets can possibly go through, based off their location in deep distant galaxies.
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