NASA's Webb telescope unveils surprising features of distant 'Candyfloss Planet'

Written by Jeppe W

Nov.16 - 2023 3:35 PM CET

Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com

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NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has made groundbreaking discoveries on a distant exoplanet, WASP-107b, located about 200 light-years away in the Virgo constellation.

This planet, first identified in 2017, has intrigued scientists with its unique characteristics, earning it the nickname 'candyfloss planet'.

A Planet Like No Other

WASP-107b is roughly the size of Jupiter but has a mass akin to the significantly smaller Neptune. This unusual ratio of size to mass renders the planet exceptionally 'fluffy' or airy compared to other gas giants.

The low mass of WASP-107b allows researchers to probe deeper into the planet’s atmosphere, gaining new insights into a world far from our own.

A team led by Professor Leen Decin from KU Leuven utilized the Webb Telescope's mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) to study WASP-107b.

Their findings, published in Nature, reveal the presence of key components in the planet’s atmosphere, including sulfur dioxide and water vapor.

Sand Clouds and Silicate Particles

One of the most surprising discoveries is the presence of large clouds composed of tiny silicate particles – essentially sand – high in the planet's atmosphere.

The process is likened to the water cycle on Earth but with sand droplets. This phenomenon indicates that the sand evaporates in the warmer layers of the atmosphere, rises, and then condenses into clouds in the cooler upper layers.

Transforming Our Understanding

These findings significantly reshape our understanding of planetary formation and evolution.

As Professor Decin highlights, the discovery of sand clouds, water, and sulfur dioxide on this airy exoplanet is a crucial milestone, offering a new perspective on our solar system.

The James Webb Telescope has been instrumental in this discovery, allowing for an in-depth atmospheric characterization of an exoplanet unlike any in our solar system. According to astronomer Achrene Dyrek from the French research organization CEA, this telescope is uncovering new worlds and enhancing our understanding of the universe.

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