‘Sunscreen’ snowfall observed on fiery hot exoplanet (PHOTO)
The sizzling exoplanet, Kepler-13Ab, is not known for its agreeable climate. The ‘roaster planet’ or ‘hot Jupiter’ is tidally locked to its sun, meaning one side is in permanent darkness.
The daylight half of the exoplanet sees temperatures reach more than 2700 degrees celsius.
Now researchers from Pennsylvania State University have determined that strong winds on the alien world carry atmospheric titanium oxide – a key ingredient in sun screen – to the dark side of the planet.
From there the titanium oxide, in the form of a gas, cools and forms clouds. The gas then falls in precipitation as snow.
The bizarre phenomenon – known as a ‘cold trap’ – was discovered on Kepler-13Ab using the Hubble telescope, according to NASA.
Details of the discovery have been published in the Astronomical Journal.
Researchers zeroed in on the atmospheric conditions of the planet – which is more than 1,000 times larger than Earth – and created a model for the intriguing weather process.
Lead author of the study, Thomas Beatty said the manner of the study could be replicated to uncover hidden secrets of similar far off worlds.
“In many ways, the atmospheric studies we’re doing now on these gaseous ‘hot Jupiter’ kinds of planets are test bed for how we’re going to do atmospheric studies of terrestrial, Earth-like planets,” Beatty said.
“Understanding more about the atmospheres of these planets and how they work will help us when we study smaller planets that are harder to see and have more complicated features in their atmospheres.”
He added that it is likely that similar precipitation happens on other ‘hot Jupiters,’ but that Kepler-13Ab’s strong surface gravity actually allows the snow to reach the lower parts of the planet’s atmosphere.
“Presumably, this precipitation process is happening on most of the observed hot Jupiters, but those gas giants all have lower surface gravities than Kepler 13Ab,” Beatty said.
“The titanium oxide snow doesn’t fall far enough in those atmospheres, and then it gets swept back to the hotter dayside, revaporizes and returns to a gaseous state.”