NASA’s Webb telescope spots ‘sandy’ swirling clouds on planet that orbits two stars

TNN Bureau. Updated: 3/23/2023 6:40:07 PM National

A bad day at the beach is better than a good day at the office, but that saying wouldn't hold up in a recently studied world 40 light-years from Earth, where every day might be a gusty beach purgatory.

On exoplanet VHS 1256 b(Opens in a new tab), the clouds swirl with sizzling, gritty flecks of sand. The weather might give visitors a great exfoliating facial, but it definitely wouldn't be relaxing. Up in the clouds, temperatures reach a scorching 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a perpetual, blistering sandstorm. And when the clouds get too heavy, rainstorms likely pelt the planet with the sandy mixture, scientists say.

"The finer silicate grains in its atmosphere may be more like tiny particles in smoke," said Beth Biller of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, in a statement(Opens in a new tab). "The larger grains might be more like very hot, very small sand particles."

Researchers recently used the James Webb Space Telescope, the preeminent observatory in the sky run by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, to study the unusual exoplanet. The telescope's observations reveal a world with some similar characteristics to Earth's while including many other brutal conditions.

For instance, scientists found the planet's atmosphere had clear signs of water, methane, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide — familiar chemicals in this world. Its days are only two hours shorter than ours.

But it takes 10,000 years for it to make a complete trip around its two stars. A NASA Twitter account described it as "Tatooine-like(Opens in a new tab)," referencing Luke Skywalker's home in Star Wars, which had twin sunsets. Given how far away the planet is from its host stars — about four times farther than Pluto is from the sun — their light wouldn't shine that bright.

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