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Sapphire and ruby clouds on an alien planet

For the first time, scientists have detected weather on a planet outside the solar system, an extremely hot gas giant with clouds made of mineral.

hatp7b.jpg
NASA; ESA; G. Bacon, STScI

Some 1,000 light-years away in the direction of the constellation of Cygnus is a gas giant called HAT-P-7b, discovered by the Kepler Mission in 2008. Coming in at 16 times larger than the Earth (Jupiter is 11 times larger), HAT-P-7b was pretty nondescript -- until now. For the first time, researchers have identified weather in a planet outside the solar system, and that planet is HAT-P-7b.

"Using the NASA Kepler satellite we were able to study light reflected from HAT-P-7b's atmosphere, finding that the atmosphere was changing over time. HAT-P-7b is a tidally locked planet, with the same side always facing its star. We expect clouds to form on the cold night side of the planet, but they would evaporate quickly on the hot dayside," said David Armstrong of the University of Warwick's Astrophysics Group.

"These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the dayside. The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up then dying away. This is the first detection of weather on a gas giant planet outside the solar system."

According to the research, HAT-P-7b is extremely hot on its dayside, averaging 2,860 Kelvin, and those clouds would be spectacular if we could see them, as they're probably made of corundum, the mineral that makes up rubies and sapphires.