Weather forecast: Anticipate spread, irregular clouds made up of silicates on world VHS 1256 b.
Have you ever before had warm sand on your face? This is a soothing experience contrasted to the trip problems found high in the environment of the world VHS 1256 b. Scientist making use of
NASAs Webb Space Telescope Spots Swirling, Gritty Clouds on Remote Planet
Researchers observing with NASAs James Webb Space Telescope have pinpointed silicate cloud features in a distant planets atmosphere. The atmosphere is constantly rising, mixing, and moving during its 22-hour day, bringing hotter material up and pushing colder material down. The resulting brightness changes are so dramatic that it is the most variable planetary-mass object known to date. The team, led by Brittany Miles of the University of Arizona, also made extraordinarily clear detections of water, methane and carbon monoxide with Webbs data, and found evidence of carbon dioxide. This is the largest number of molecules ever identified all at once on a planet outside our solar system.
Cataloged as VHS 1256 b, the planet is about 40 light-years away and orbits not one, but two stars over a 10,000-year period. VHS 1256 b is about four times farther from its stars than
VHS 1256 b has low gravity compared to more massive brown dwarfs, which means that its silicate clouds can appear and remain higher in its atmosphere where Webb can detect them. Another reason its skies are so turbulent is the planets age. In astronomical terms, its quite young. Only 150 million years have passed since it formed and it will continue to change and cool over billions of years.
In many ways, the team considers these findings to be the first coins pulled out of a spectrum that researchers view as a treasure chest of data. In many ways, theyve only begun identifying its contents. Weve identified silicates, but better understanding which grain sizes and shapes match specific types of clouds is going to take a lot of additional work, Miles said. This is not the final word on this planet it is the beginning of a large-scale modeling effort to fit Webbs complex data.
Although all of the features the team observed have been spotted on other planets elsewhere in the
The team came to these conclusions by analyzing data known as spectra gathered by two instruments aboard Webb, the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) and the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). Since the planet orbits at such a great distance from its stars, the researchers were able to observe it directly, rather than using the transit technique or a coronagraph to take these data.
There will be plenty more to learn about VHS 1256 b in the months and years to come as this team and others continue to sift through Webbs high-resolution infrared data. Theres a huge return on a very modest amount of telescope time, Biller added. With only a few hours of observations, we have what feels like unending potential for additional discoveries.
What might become of this planet billions of years from now? Since its so far from its stars, it will become colder over time, and its skies may transition from cloudy to clear.
The researchers observed VHS 1256 b as part of Webbs Early Release Science program, which is designed to help transform the astronomical communitys ability to characterize planets and the disks where they form.
The teams paper, entitled The JWST Early Release Science Program for Direct Observations of Exoplanetary Systems II: A 1 to 20 Micron Spectrum of the Planetary-Mass Companion VHS 1256-1257 b, was published in The