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Sunscreen Snow Falling On Exoplanet Detected By Hubble Space Telescope

30 October 2017

The daylight half of the exoplanet sees temperatures reach more than 2700 degrees celsius. With the sunscreen, or titanium oxide, precipitation only occurs on the permanent dark side of the planet, leaving the sizzling hot side without protection.

Beatty's team targeted planet Kepler-13Ab because it is one of the hottest of the known exoplanets. The study team thinks that strong winds carry the planet's titanium dioxide around to the nightside, where the stuff cools and condenses into clouds. The planet it tidally locked in rotation around its star, which means that it rotates so that the same side of the planet it facing the sun at all times, similar to how the dark side of the moon is perpetually facing away from our own planet.

"In many ways, the atmospheric studies we're doing on hot Jupiters now are testbeds for how we're going to do atmospheric studies on terrestrial, Earth-like planets", said lead researcher, Thomas Beatty.

The intense gravity of the exoplanet removes titanium oxide from its upper atmosphere.

A group of astronomers from Penn State University suggest that this particular ingredient snows on the side of the planet which remains completely dark and is not exposed to its host star. The study, which definitively proves that the universe has a great sense of humor, could one day be used to inform astronomers trying to judge the habitability of atmosphere-hosting Earth-sized planets. "Understanding the atmospheres on these planets and how they work, which is not understood in detail, will help us when we study these smaller planets that are harder to see and have more complicated features in their atmospheres". "When looking at these planets, you need to know not only how hot they are, but also what their gravity is like".

"Hot Jupiters provide us with the best views of what climates on other worlds are like".

Even at their much colder temperatures, most of our solar system's gas giants have warmer temperatures at higher altitudes. "Due to the relatively high mass and surface gravity of Kepler-13Ab, we suggest that the apparent lack of an inversion is due to cold-trap processes in the planet's atmosphere". Then, it precipitates as snow and penetrates into the lower layers of the atmosphere.

Instead, they planned to note the day-side atmospheric temperature of the planet as it travelled behind its star during an event which is called secondary eclipse. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of worldwide cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).

'Seeing this cold-trap process in action provides us with a long sought and important piece of that puzzle'. "Hubble observations of the planet's atmospheric temperature profile represent the first time astronomers have detected this precipitation process, called a 'cold trap, ' on an exoplanet".

This type of eclipse yields information on the temperature of the constituents in the atmosphere of the exoplanet's dayside.

Sunscreen Snow Falling On Exoplanet Detected By Hubble Space Telescope