The Webb Telescope’s first astonishing discovery of ‘smoky clouds’ on an exoplanet

The same team of researchers that took the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) last week. The first direct image of a planet outside our solar system It confirmed the presence of smoke-like silica clouds in another atmosphere.

Assumed result for many years published A new research paper (not peer-reviewed) reveals that an exoplanet called VHS 1256 b has a violent, turbulent atmosphere filled with clouds.

However, these clouds are not made of droplets of water vapor, but rather of smoke-like silicate particles. “The best way to think of these clouds is the things that are made up of tiny particles…except that these silicate clouds are made of the same thing that grains of sand are made of,” said Sacha Hinckley, associate professor in the department. Physics and Astronomy at the University of Exeter and Principal Investigator for one of JWST’s 13 early-stage science programmes.

Astronomers who have modeled the atmospheres of exoplanets using computers for decades have predicted that these smoke-like particles should exist in these atmospheres, but only JWST has the wavelength coverage to definitively detect them.

In addition to clouds, the team also found carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of VHS 1256 b – just days later JWST discovered carbon dioxide around another exoplanet for the first time. This “second time” has not made mainstream news, which helps put these findings in context. JWST is currently being put into its stride as it is used to make the first-ever infrared observations of the universe, so expect a bunch of “firsts” in the next few months.

For example, they also detected a turbulent atmosphere on VHS 1256 b. “In a calm atmosphere, there is an expected ratio of, say, methane and carbon monoxide,” Hinckley said. “But in many atmospheres of exoplanets, we find this ratio to be very skewed, which indicates the presence of turbulent vertical mixing in these atmospheres, which results in carbon dioxide being washed out from the depths to mix with methane in the upper atmosphere.” The discovery of “imbalance chemistry” on a planet far from the solar system is itself a landmark discovery for JWST.

VHS 1256 b is a very strange place. The planet orbits not one star, but two brown dwarf stars that orbit each other, not orbiting their binary host in a circle, but rather in a very “eccentric” elliptical orbit. It is 72 light years from the solar system in the constellation Corvus.

It’s somewhere between 12 and 16 the masses of Jupiter, so large that it’s a failed brown dwarf candidate rather than a planet. So the paper actually refers to it as a “planetary cluster companion” and not just a planet. “It’s definitely not terrestrial,” Hinckley said. “It’s a lot like a gas giant, Jupiter’s super body.” Either way, this object is roughly 360 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun, far from the host stars, so it takes 17,000 years to rotate.

Webb is the most ambitious and complex space science telescope ever built, with a massive 6.5-meter primary mirror that will be able to detect the faint light of distant stars and galaxies. It is only designed to detect infrared light emitted by distant stars, planets, gas and dust clouds.

I wish you a clear sky and wide eyes.