Researchers from the University of Chicago have made quite the discovery; the forecast for an alien planet’s weather. They used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the weather patterns on the exoplanet GJ 1214b. The “super-Earth” has a cloudy atmosphere which prevents detailed observations of the planet’s lower atmosphere and surface.
GJ 1214b was first discovered back in 2009. It is located 40 light-years from Earth, near the constellation Ophiucus. As a super-Earth the planet has a mass higher than Earth but less than Neptune. Previous observations of GJ 1214b allowed researchers to conclude two possible scenarios for the planet’s atmosphere. Researchers using the Subaru Telescope determined the planet had a water-rich atmosphere but did not rule out the possibility of an extremely cloudy atmosphere per International Business Times.
Using the Hubble Telescope, the University of Chicago astronomers discovered the planet does in fact have a cloudy atmosphere. The findings were published in the journal of Nature, led by Laura Kreidberg and Jacob Bean. The duo used 96 hours of Hubble observations, over the span of 11 months, and analyzed the data to discover this alien planet’s weather.
Kreidberg and Bean were impressed with Hubble’s adaptability, as the telescope was not intended for observations of these sorts. The team used Hubble to observe GJ 1214b in near-infrared light. “I think it’s very exciting that we can use a telescope like Hubble that was never designed with this in mind, do these kinds of observations with such exquisite precision, and really nail down some property of a small planet orbiting a distant star,” said Bean in a statement.
Based on the Hubble observations, the researchers determined GJ 1214b contained clouds in the upper atmosphere but were unable to determine the composition of the clouds. Based on models of super-Earth atmosphere, they could be composed of potassium chloride or zinc sulfide.