Cloudy with a chance of… molten iron storms? New planet-like object intrigues scientists
“This is the first detection of weather on an extrasolar planetary mass object,” researchers from Edinburg said in a published paper available at the Cornell University Library.
They refer to it as “free-floating planetary mass object PSO J318.5-22” because it doesn’t orbit around a host star.
Floating around 75 light years from Earth, PSO J318.5-22 is about eight times bigger than Jupiter and many times hotter. Its temperature can reach 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit, or 800 degrees Celsius.
Beth Biller, who led the study at the University of Edinburgh’s school of physics and astronomy, used the European Southern Observatory’s New Technology Telescope in Chile to take a closer look at the exoplanet. As they studied hundreds of infrared images taken with the telescope, the team found the brightness of PSO J318.5-22 can vary considerably.
The astronomers believe that the reason for the fluctuations lies in layers of thick and thin clouds passing over the face of the globe as it rotates, while at the same time spewing out molten metal rain. Iron is responsible for the planet’s red color.
“This discovery shows just how ubiquitous clouds are in planets and planet-like objects,” researchers said. “We’re working on extending this technique to giant planets around young stars, and eventually we hope to detect weather in Earth-like exoplanets that may harbor life.”
Scientists believe that PSO J318.5-22, which was first discovered two years ago, could be around 12 million years old and have theorized that the free-floating planetary mass may have been kicked out of its own solar system shortly after forming.