Researchers working with data from the James Webb Space Telescope have spotted silicate cloud features in a distant planet’s atmosphere.
NASA said that the atmosphere of the “Tatooine-like world,” known as VHS 1256 b, is constantly rising, mixing and moving during its 22-hour day.
As the atmosphere constantly brings hotter material up – with high temperatures reaching 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit – and pushes colder material down, the result is dramatic brightness changes.
“The resulting brightness changes are so dramatic that it is the most variable planetary-mass object known to date,” NASA said in a release.
The larger silicate dust grains in the atmosphere may be like very hot, small sand particles.
Furthermore, the scientists also identified the largest number of molecules all at once on a planet outside our solar system, making detections of water, methane and carbon monoxide.
Although all the features the team observed have been spotted on other planets elsewhere in the Milky Way by other telescopes, other research teams typically identified only one at a time.
“No other telescope has identified so many features at once for a single target,” research co-author Andrew Skemer of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said in a statement. “We’re seeing a lot of molecules in a single spectrum from Webb that detail the planet’s dynamic cloud and weather systems.”
The researchers reached these conclusions by analyzing data from Webb’s NIRSpec and MIRI instruments, with observations as part of Webb’s Early Release Science program.
Their findings were published in a paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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