James Webb Telescope Detects Dust Storm on Faraway Exoplanet with Unmatched Precision
By utilizing the unparalleled capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have successfully captured the first-ever sighting of a dust storm occurring beyond the boundaries of our solar system.
Dust Storm on a Distant Exoplanet
According to a press release posted on the official website of the JWST, the ultra-powerful telescope has detected a distant dust storm on VHS 12556 b, a massive brown dwarf exoplanet located approximately 40 light-years away from Earth.
As reported by Futurism, the remarkable capabilities of the Webb telescope not only enabled the observation of this remote dust storm but also allowed for the identification of its atmospheric composition. Analysis revealed that it consists of silicate particles ranging from minuscule specks to small grains.
According to the BBC, multiple layers of silicate grains may exist, with the smaller and more visible ones located higher up in the planet’s atmosphere. In contrast, larger silicate grains could be found in deeper regions.
The astronomers involved in the study suggest that the swirling silicate particles can become too heavy, causing them to fall and create a “rain” effect within the exoplanet’s atmosphere.
Sand…coarse, rough, gets everywhere. We may have found it on VHS 1256 b, a Tatooine-like world orbiting twin suns. Among other molecules, Webb detected silicate dust grains in its atmosphere. The larger grains may be like very hot, small sand particles: https://t.co/cl0jPDVYST pic.twitter.com/nwgMPpXFH4
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) March 22, 2023
Exoplanet VHS 1256 b
According to the BBC, the exoplanet, also known as “super Jupiter,” was first discovered in 2015 using the Vista telescope in Chile. Its atmosphere is similar to Jupiter’s, but much larger, and its mass is estimated to be between 12 to 18 times that of Jupiter.
The exoplanet orbits at a remarkable distance from a few stars, about four times the distance between Pluto and the Sun. Previous observations showed that the exoplanet appeared red, suggesting the presence of dust in its atmosphere, a finding supported by the recent Webb study.
Additionally, the observations made by the Webb telescope indicate the presence of clear signatures of methane, carbon monoxide, and water, as well as carbon dioxide. The abundance of atmospheric methane and carbon monoxide suggests that the exoplanet is both turbulent and hot.
Ultra-Powerful James Webb Space Telescope
According to the upcoming paper’s co-author, Andrew Skemer, from the University of California, Santa Cruz, other telescopes had gathered data on the exoplanet before, but the James Webb Telescope is the first to collect such a vast amount of data in a single observation. The Miri (Mid-Infrared Instrument) and NirSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrometer) instruments on the Webb telescope were used to make this groundbreaking discovery.
Skemer notes that no other telescope has been able to identify multiple features of a single target simultaneously. The Webb telescope was able to detect various molecules within one spectrum, revealing the exoplanet’s dynamic weather and cloud systems.
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