Extreme Weather

Artist's conception of the exoplanet WASP-121b and its star.

Many of the exoplanets we’ve observed so far are extreme environments. WASP-121b is known as a hot Jupiter, a gas giant so close to its star that it orbits in just 30 hours. The exoplanet is tidally-locked to its star, meaning that one side always faces toward the star and the other faces away. This constant sunlight makes the daytime side of the planet hot enough to vaporize metals. A recent study combined observations of the exoplanet with numerical simulations to model both the daytime and nighttime atmosphere of the exoplanet. The results are pretty wild. The authors found evidence of 18,000 km/h winds that blow hot gases from the dayside to the nightside, where temperatures cool enough for some metals — primarily corundum — to rain out of the atmosphere. Given the trace amounts of other elements available in the atmosphere, the authors posit that the nightside of the planet may have rainfall of liquid rubies and sapphires. (Image credit: NASA/ESA; research credit: T. Mikal-Evans et al.; via Physics World)

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