NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is continuing to amaze us with the discoveries of so many weird exoplanets. In this weird planet, it snows sunscreen.
This time, the legendary telescope has found a scorching hot planet outside our solar system where it “snows” titanium dioxide. This ingredient is the most active in a sunscreen.
This weird sunscreen snow only happens on the planet’s permanent nighttime side. Astronomers call this exoplanet Kepler-13Ab and it lies 1,730 light-years from Earth. It’s six times more massive than Jupiter.
The exoplanet is very close to its host star, completing one orbit every 1.8 Earth days.
As its name suggests, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope discovered Kepler-13Ab w back in 2011. The exoplanet is part of a triple-star system that includes the hot Jupiter’s host star, Kepler-13A, and two companion stars (Kepler-13B and Kepler-13C).
Researchers estimate that this planet is one of the hottest worlds known, with a day-side temperature of nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius).
The Hubble observations showed that temperatures higher up in Kepler-13Ab’s atmosphere are cooler than those below.
Like on most hot Jupiters, here, gaseous titanium dioxide absorbs starlight in the dayside’s upper atmosphere and radiates this energy as heat, warming the air up.
Hubble astronomers suggest that powerful winds carry the titanium oxide gas around to the colder nighttime side, where it condenses into crystalline flakes, forms clouds, and precipitates as snow.
Kepler-13Ab’s surface gravity is six times greater than Jupiter’s. It basically pulls the titanium oxide snow out of the upper atmosphere and traps it in the lower atmosphere.
“These observations of Kepler-13Ab are telling us how condensates and clouds form in the atmospheres of very hot Jupiters, and how gravity will affect the composition of an atmosphere,” study lead author Thomas Beatty, an assistant research professor of astronomy at Pennsylvania State University, said in a statement. “When looking at these planets, you need to know not only how hot they are, but also what their gravity is like.”
The new study was published in the October 2017 issue of The Astronomical Journal. It could eventually help astronomers better understand exoplanets more like our own, Beatty added.
Thumbnail Image: Artist’s illustration showing the scorching-hot exoplanet Kepler-13Ab, which circles very close to its host star, Kepler-13A. In the background is the star’s binary companion, Kepler-13B; the third member of the multiple-star system is the orange dwarf star Kepler-13C. Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)