May, 2024

NYU Abu Dhabi Scientists Use Webb Telescope to Reveal Dusty Clouds on Giant Exoplanet

Abu Dhabi/ Roshna: Researchers from NYU Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with the James Webb Space Telescope Transiting Exoplanet Early Release Science (JTEC-ERS) team, have leveraged NASA’s James Webb Telescope to uncover groundbreaking insights into the climate of a Jupiter-sized exoplanet. Led by Research Scientist Jasmina Blecic and Associate Professor Ian Dobbs-Dixon from the Center for Astrophysics and Space Science (CASS), their study, published in Nature Astronomy, unveils the first observation of thick, dust-filled clouds on the nightside of the giant exoplanet.

Using Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), the team conducted phase curve observations of WASP-43b, a gas-filled exoplanet, revealing temperature distributions across its entire orbit. They discovered thick clouds and a surprising lack of methane on the planet’s nightside, alongside ubiquitous water presence throughout its atmosphere.

Despite the nightside being permanently shadowed, it maintains a scorching temperature of 1115°F (600°C), driven by extreme winds reaching thousands of kilometers per hour due to temperature differentials. The research also points to a thick layer of dust clouds, akin to rocks and minerals, shrouding the nightside, unlike Earth’s water clouds.

Remarkably, amidst these dense clouds, the team detected clear signals of water, enabling them to determine cloud height and thickness, revealing their unusual altitude and density compared to Earth’s clouds. Furthermore, wind-driven mixing, termed “chemical disequilibrium,” was observed, ensuring uniform atmospheric chemistry across the planet.

This groundbreaking study sheds light on the complex climate dynamics of exoplanets and underscores the transformative potential of Webb Telescope observations in unraveling the mysteries of distant worlds.

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