Visible and infrared observations suggest that the hot Jupiter Kepler-7b has a large patch of clouds on one side.
Despite our wild imaginings, exoplanets are still pretty mysterious. But astronomers are edging closer to understanding what these far-off worlds look like as planets, and not just pinpricks or blips in starlight. One recent study, appearing in the October 20th Astrophysical Journal Letters, explores the atmosphere of Kepler-7b and reveals what looks like a big patch of clouds.
Whether this study is the first map of exoplanet clouds depends on the distinction you draw between brown dwarfs and planets: last January astronomers reported they had teased apart atmosphere layers in the brown dwarf 2MASS J22282889?431026. And observers have found hints of “storms” on these failed stars, too. But the new study is still neat. Kepler-7b is about half Jupiter’s mass and whizzes around its 1.4-solar-mass star in less than 5 days, but it’s cooler than expected. The potential cloud cover might explain why.
From the MIT news office
Scientists generate first map of clouds on an exoplanet
On the exoplanet Kepler 7b, the weather is highly predictable, an international team of scientists has found: On any given day, the exoplanet, which orbits a star nearly 1,000 light-years from Earth, is heavily overcast on one side, while the other side likely enjoys clear, cloudless weather. . . .
(Well, it might still be hazy: it's a hot Jupiter, after all.)