Astronomers have gotten their first glimpse at weather on a planet outside of our solar system. Using data gathered by NASA’s Kepler space telescope, astronomers detected regular, repeating temperature fluctuations on planet HAT-P-7b throughout its solar day, indicating that the planet undergoes weather patterns similar to those on Earth. The planet is located in the Cygnus constellation roughly 1,000 light years from Earth. The gas giant dwarfs our own planet, with a mass close to 500 times larger than Earth’s. The most interesting find is that the planet’s violent storms could possibly contain gemstones considered precious here on Earth.
Astronomer Dr. David Armstrong, lead author in this study, claims that this study is the first of its kind to track regular weather patterns outside of our solar system:
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. This is the first detection of weather on a gas giant planet outside the solar system.
According to their data published in Nature, astronomers have detected an irregular “super rotating” jet of wind formations on the planet which hint at new, unknown weather patterns unlike anything on Earth:
A plausible mechanism for the phase offset variation in the Kepler lightcurves is therefore variation in the speed of the super rotating jet […] The mechanism for such aperiodic variation in wind speed is unknown, but a possible driver may be the extreme tidal forces experienced by HAT-P-7 b owing to its close orbit.
Based on electromagnetic spectroscopy, the planet’s violent cloud formations are thought to be made of corundum, a mineral found in gemstones such as rubies and sapphires. Already, many science outlets have jumped on this find as evidence that the plant could have rainstorms which fill the planet’s skies in precious gemstones.
Before you dream of going on an intergalactic gem-hunting mission, note that the planet also has winds that blow at ferocious speeds reaching several hundred kilometers per second. Furthermore, given that the average temperature of HAT-P-7b hover around 2,500℃, it’s likely that any minerals evaporate as they are blown about in the planet’s violent atmosphere. For science fiction fans who have long dreamed of incredible weather conditions on strange, new worlds, this first study of alien planet weather doesn’t disappoint.