Science & Tech

Scientists discover fluffy 'alien' planet where it rains sand

The James Webb Telescope Just Got an Incredible Photo of the ‘Whirlpool …
ZMG - Amaze Lab / VideoElephant

Experts have discovered a fluffy “alien” planet where it rains sand in stunning new observations from the James Webb Space Telescope.

The bizarre-looking planet is officially known as exoplanet WASP-107b and has a cloud of silicate sand that exists high within its atmosphere giving it its strange fluffy appearance.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been responsible for some astounding findings since it was launched in 2021, including a mysterious galaxy shaped like a question mark .

Now, observations made by the telescope have been used by experts who have been able to determine the atmospheric composition of the exoplanet that was pictured.

A team of European astronomers found that water vapour, sulfur dioxide and silicate sand clouds existed in the exoplanet’s diverse atmosphere.

The exoplanet WASP-107b is one of the lowest-density planets that astronomers are aware of. To put it into context, it is the same size as Jupiter , but has just 12 per cent of Jupiter’s mass.

Thanks to its low density, it has allowed scientists to take a deeper look into the planet’s atmosphere, exploring 50 times deeper than would be possible with denser planets.

The discovery of sulfur dioxide was a surprise because the host star it orbits only emits a small amount of high-energy light photons. But, its low-density atmosphere allows the photons to penetrate WASP-107b’s atmosphere where the chemical reaction that creates sulfur dioxide can occur.

They also discovered that it essentially rains sand on the exoplanet due to the presence of clouds high in the atmosphere made up of fine silicate particles. Experts believe the clouds of sand form in the same way as rain does on Earth as the droplets continually fall and condense back into cloud form.

The lead author of the study , Leen Decin from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, explained : “JWST is revolutionizing exoplanet characterisation, providing unprecedented insights at remarkable speed.”

She added: “The discovery of clouds of sand, water, and sulfur dioxide on this fluffy exoplanet… is a pivotal milestone. It reshapes our understanding of planetary formation and evolution, shedding new light on our own solar system.”

How to join the indy100's free WhatsApp channel

Sign up to our free indy100 weekly newsletter

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.

The Conversation (0)