The tumultuous weather patterns of distant worlds come to light as NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope unveils the stormy spectacle on the Jupiter-sized exoplanet, WASP-121 b. Located 880 light-years away, this inhospitable “hot Jupiter” orbits perilously close to a star brighter and hotter than our Sun, with its upper atmosphere searing at a blistering 3,400 degrees Fahrenheit.
The planet’s dynamic atmosphere, studied through a compilation of Hubble observations spanning 2016 to 2019, presents a vivid display of massive cyclones and other atmospheric upheavals. The intense ultraviolet light from the host star heats the upper atmosphere, triggering the escape of magnesium and iron gases into space. The gravitational tidal forces from the star further distort the planet’s shape, rendering it football-shaped.
In a groundbreaking approach, astronomers utilized advanced computer modeling to analyze the observations, revealing a changing atmospheric landscape. The large temperature disparity between the star-facing and dark night-time sides of WASP-121 b leads to the formation and dissolution of massive cyclones. An apparent offset between the hottest region and the point closest to the star, along with variations in the chemical composition, further emphasize the dynamic nature of the exoplanet’s weather.
WASP-121 b’s close proximity to its parent star results in tidal locking, with one hemisphere perpetually facing the star. Daytime temperatures soar to a scorching 3,450 degrees Fahrenheit on the sunlit side. While the planet itself is far from habitable, the study represents a crucial step in understanding the intricacies of weather patterns on distant exoplanets. The findings hold promise for future investigations into potentially habitable exoplanets with stable, long-term climates.
Led by an international team of astronomers, this research not only sheds light on the stormy nature of “hot Jupiters” but also marks a significant stride in unraveling the atmospheric complexities of exoplanets, paving the way for more in-depth studies in the quest for habitable conditions beyond our solar system.