NASA Hubble Creates Most Detailed Map Yet of Exoplanet with Extreme Temperatures

First Posted: Oct 10, 2014 09:17 AM EDT

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has helped a team of scientists to make the most detailed global map yet of the glow of a turbulent planet outside our solar system. The new map reveals finer details about the exoplanet's air temperatures and water vapor, telling researchers a bit more about other planets.

The exoplanet, named WASP-43b, is a world of extremes. It has winds that scream past at the speed of sound and a 3,000-plus-degree-Fahrenheit "day" side that's hot enough to melt steel. It's "night" side has temperatures that plunge below 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now, researchers have mapped the temperatures at different layers of the planet's atmosphere and have traced the amount and distribution of water vapor. These findings, in particular, can tell researchers a bit more about atmospheric dynamics in general and show them how giant planets like Jupiter are formed.

"Our observations are the first of their kind in terms of providing a two-dimensional map on the longitude and altitude of the planet's thermal structure that can be used to constrain atmospheric circulation and dynamical models for hot exoplanets," said Kevin Stevenson, one of the team members, in a news release.

The exoplanet if made up of a hot ball of predominantly hydrogen gas. There aren't any surface features on the planet, either-such as oceans or continents. In fact, only the temperature difference between the day and night sides of the planet can be used by a remote observer to track the passage of a day on this world.

About the same size as Jupiter, this exoplanet is twice as dense. It's also so close to its host start that it completes an orbit in just 19 hours. In addition, the planet is gravitationally locked, which means that it always keeps one hemisphere facing the star, just as our moon keeps one face toward the Earth.

The findings reveal a bit more about how giant planets form. More specifically, it lends some insight into the amount of water expected on these giant planets. This, in turn, can tell us about planets, like Jupiter, in our own solar system.

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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