Webb detects swirling sand clouds on planet VHS 1256 b

The atmosphere of the planet VHS 1256 b, located about 40 light years away and orbiting two stars, contains silicate, water, methane, carbon monoxide and other compounds. No other telescope had identified so many features at once for a single target.

Researchers observing from space with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have identified features of silicate clouds in the atmosphere of a distant planet. The atmosphere constantly rises, mixes, and moves throughout its 22-hour day, pulling hotter materials up and pushing colder materials down.

The resulting changes in brightness are so dramatic that it is the most variable planetary-mass object known to date. The team, led by Brittany Miles of the University of Arizona, also detected water, methane and carbon monoxide with Webb’s data, and found evidence of carbon dioxide. This is the largest number of molecules ever identified on a planet outside our solar system at any given time.


VHS 1256 ba at 40 light years

Cataloged as VHS 1256 b, the planet is about 40 light-years away and orbits two stars over a period of 10,000 years. “VHS 1256 b is about four times farther from its stars than Pluto is from our Sun, making it an excellent target for Webb,” Miles said.

This means that the light from the planet does not mix with the light from its stars.”. Higher up in its atmosphere, where silicate clouds swirl, temperatures reach 830 degrees Celsius (1,500 degrees Fahrenheit).

Within these clouds, Webb detected larger and smaller silicate dust grains, depicted in a spectrum. “The finer silicate grains in its atmosphere might look more like tiny smoke particles.said co-author Beth Biller, from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. “Larger grains might look more like very hot, very small sand particles.”.

VHS 1256 has low gravity compared to more massive brown dwarfs, which means its silicate clouds can appear and persist higher up in its atmosphere, where Webb can detect them.

Troubled Skies on VHS 1256b

Another reason its skies are so turbulent is the age of the planet. In astronomical terms, he is quite young. Only 150 million years have passed since its formation and it will continue to change and cool for billions of years.

In many ways, the team regards these results as the first “coins” drawn from a spectrum that researchers consider a treasure trove of data. Because they are just beginning to identify its content.

NASA, planets, whirlpools, outer space, planetary explosionsA team from the University of Arizona used two instruments known as spectrographs aboard the James Webb Space Telescope. / NASA, ESA, CSA, J. Olmsted (STScI)

We have identified silicates, but better understanding which grain sizes and shapes correspond to which specific cloud types is going to take a lot of additional work.Miles said. “It’s not the last word on this planet: it’s the start of a large-scale modeling effort to accommodate Webb’s complex data.“, he added.

Although all of the features the team observed had been detected by other telescopes on other planets, at different locations in the Milky Way, other research teams usually only identified one feature at a time. .

The Webb Space Telescope provides a lot of information

No other telescope has identified so many features at once for a single target.said co-author Andrew Skemer, of the University of California, Santa Cruz. “We see many molecules in a single Webb spectrum, detailing the dynamic cloud and weather systems of this planet.”.

El equipo llegó a estas conclusions mediante el análisis de datos conocidos como spectros, compiled por dos instruments a bordo de Webb: el espectrógrafo del infrarrojo cercano (NIRSpec, por sus siglas en inglés) y el instrumento de infrarrojo medio (MIRI, por sus siglas in English).

Because the planet’s orbit moves such a great distance from its stars, the researchers were able to observe it directly, rather than using the transit technique or a coronagraph to obtain this data.

There will be much more to learn about VHS 1256b in the months and years to come as this team, and others, continue to analyze Webb’s high-resolution infrared data. “There’s a lot of performance in a very modest telescope time.Billier said. “With only a few hours of observations, we have what seems like endless potential for additional discoveries.“, he added.

far from their stars

What could happen to this planet in billions of years? Since it is so far from its stars, it will cool down over time and its skies may change from cloudy to clear.

The researchers observed VHS 1256b as part of Webb’s First Science Observations program, which is designed to help transform the astronomical community’s ability to characterize planets and the disks where they form.

The team’s scientific paper, titled “The James Webb Space Telescope First Science Observations program for direct observation of exoplanetary systems II: 1-20 micron spectrum of planetary mass companion VHS 1256-1257 bwas published this week in Letters from the Astrophysical Journal .

Finally, remember that the James Webb Space Telescope is the first scientific space observatory in the world. Webb’s mission is to see beyond distant worlds around other stars and explore still-enigmatic structures and the origins of our universe. In this international program led by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are partners.



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