The James Webb Space Telescope found a strange alien world enveloped in clouds of sand-like silicate grains.
The an exoplanet The discovery, described in the new paper as the first of its kind, has been made James Webb Space TelescopeNIRSpec and MIRI instruments. In the data, astronomers noticed evidence of silicate-rich clouds around a a brown dwarf almost 20 times the size Jupiter. The finding confirms some earlier theories about these strange planet-like worlds.
Brown dwarfs are strange objects that are not big enough to ignite stars but too large for ordinary planets. While brown dwarfs cannot burn ordinary hydrogen, they can produce their own light and heat by burning deuterium (a less common isotope of hydrogen that contains an extra neutron).
On the subject: The James Webb Space Telescope sniffs out carbon dioxide around an alien world
The brown dwarf in question is called VHS 1256 b and orbits two minors red dwarf stars, about 72 light years from Earth in the constellation Vola, or the Crow, in the southern sky. Astronomers discovered the strange exoplanet in 2016, and since then it has baffled them with its reddish glow. They believed that the glow could be caused by some type of atmosphere. Observations by the James Webb Space Telescope confirmed these theories, showing that VHS 1256 b must be shrouded in thick clouds full of sand-like silicate grains. Forbes (opens in a new tab).
Webb also detected water, methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sodium, and potassium in the atmosphere of VHS 1256 b.
“We will learn more from the data reduction iterations,” Brittany Miles, an astronomer at the University of California, Irvine and the project’s lead investigator, told Space.com in an email. “So far it looks pretty similar to theoretical expectations.”
Webb’s data were so detailed that they showed that the ratio of the various gases varies throughout the atmosphere of VHS 1256 b, suggesting that the atmosphere is not stationary, but wild and turbulent.
“In a quiescent atmosphere, there is an expected ratio of, say, methane to carbon monoxide,” said Sasha Hinkley, an astronomer at the University of Exeter in the UK and one of the study’s co-authors. Forbes (opens in a new tab). “But in the atmospheres of many exoplanets, we find that this ratio is highly skewed, suggesting that these atmospheres have turbulent vertical mixing that pulls carbon dioxide up from deep to mix with methane higher in the atmosphere.”
VHS 1256 b is small for a brown dwarf, meaning the body is probably young. The exoplanet orbits 360 Sun-to-Earth distances from its two parent stars, following an oval-shaped orbit that takes 17,000 years to complete.
The document has not yet been published; an early version is now available in the online preprint repository arXiv.org (opens in a new tab).
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