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NASA Hubble Space Telescope Catches a Fiery Exoplanet Changing Over Time

First Posted: Feb 19, 2016 09:18 AM EST

Astronomers have caught their first ever glimpse of an exoplanet changing over time. Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, they've taken the first direct, time-resolved images of an exoplanet.

The young, gaseous exoplanet is known as 2M1207b, and is located about 160 light-years from Earth. The exoplanet is four times the mass of Jupiter and orbits a failed star, known as a brown dwarf. While our own solar system is 4.5 billion years in the making, the exoplanet is just 10 million years old. With short days of 11 hours and hot temperatures, it has rain that comes in the form of liquid iron and glass.

"Understanding the exoplanet's atmosphere was one of the key goals for us," said Yifan Zhou, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This can help us understand how its clouds form and if they are homogenous or heterogeneous across the planet."

In this case, the astronomers created an innovative new way to map the exoplanet's clouds without actually seeing them in sharp relief; they measured the exoplanet's changing brightness over time. This new imaging technique provided the researchers a method to map exoplanets.

"Do these exotic worlds have banded cloud patterns like Jupiter? How is the weather and climate on these extremely hot worlds similar to or different from that of the colder planets in our own solar system? Observations like these are key to answering these questions," said Adam Showman, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings reveal a bit more about this exoplanet, and have implications for studying other planets.

The findings are published in the Astrophysical Journal.

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