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Planet Kepler-7B Clouds

Researchers using data from NASA's Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have created the first cloud map of a planet beyond our solar system, a hot Jupiter-like world known as Kepler-7b. Nearly 1,000 light years from Earth, the planet orbits its star in just under five days. It is 60 per cent larger than Jupiter but has a mass 44 per cent of Jupiter's, giving it a density of 0.14 grams per cc, much less than water. It is a “fluffy” planet. The clouds could have a silicate-based composition.

cloudy planet

Kepler 7b (left), which is 1.5 times the radius of Jupiter (right), is the first exoplanet to have its clouds mapped. The cloud map was produced using data from NASA's Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT}

The planet is marked by high clouds in the west of the sub-stellar point and clear skies in the east. The group of researchers from MIT and other institutions around the world found that one hemisphere is blanketed with a layer of clouds far denser than any found on Earth, and so thick that it reflects a significant portion of its host star’s incoming light. This shield of clouds makes the planet cooler than others of its type, creating an atmosphere that encourages further cloud formation.

"By observing this planet with Spitzer and Kepler for more than three years, we were able to produce a very low-resolution 'map' of this giant, gaseous planet," said Brice-Olivier Demory of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Demory is lead author of a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "We wouldn't expect to see oceans or continents on this type of world, but we detected a clear, reflective signature that we interpreted as clouds." (More./..)