Since it started taking spectacular images from space, the James Webb Space Telescope never ceases to amaze us. After clearly revealing the deep universe, details of Jupiter and even a rare photo of an “Einstein Ring”, the equipment has now found clouds of sand – a rare exoplanet – a world far away, outside the Solar System.
According to the team responsible, this is the first time that it has been possible to observe this type of formation in a planetary-mass object outside the Solar System. The thick clouds are rich in silicate grains and surround a brown dwarf, called VHS 1256 b, which is nearly 20 times the size of Jupiter.
In addition to the sand cloud, the telescope also detected water, methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sodium and potassium in the object’s atmosphere. VHS 1256 b is 72 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Corvo, and was discovered in 2016. It usually attracts the attention of astronomers because of its reddish glow.
The data obtained by James Webb is so detailed that it showed that the proportion of various gases changes throughout the brown dwarf’s atmosphere, suggesting it is a wild and turbulent place.
“In a calm atmosphere, there’s an expected ratio of, say, methane and carbon monoxide. But in many exoplanet atmospheres, we’re finding that this ratio is very skewed, suggesting that there’s turbulent vertical mixing in those atmospheres, dredging up carbon dioxide. carbon from the depths to mix with methane higher up in the atmosphere,” Sasha Hinkley, an astronomer at the University of Exeter in the UK and one of the study’s co-authors, told Forbes.
Detection was performed by instruments NIRSpec (near infrared Spectrographor “spectrometer near infrared”) and MIRI (Mid-Infrared instrument or “mid-infrared instrument”) of space telescope.
Because it’s important?
According to astronomers, the results obtained in these observations can help to understand the so-called “failed stars”, as brown dwarfs are known.
These strange, planet-like worlds aren’t big enough to grow into stars, but they’re a little too big to be classified as ordinary planets — they’re up to 80 times the size of Jupiter, the largest in the Solar System.
Although brown dwarfs cannot burn normal hydrogen like large stars (e.g. our Sun), they can produce their own light and heat by burning deuterium (a less common isotope of hydrogen, which contains an extra neutron).
The discovery seems to confirm some old theories about “failed stars” — for example, that they are surrounded by irregular clouds, which influence the variability of their brightness.
For researchers, this knowledge can help to find new brown dwarfs across the universe, in addition to being a tool to interpret observations of those already known.
“The initial results of James Webb’s early-launch scientific observations are groundbreaking and can also be obtained for several other nearby brown dwarfs that will be observed in future observation cycles,” the team said.
The exoplanet discovery was described in a new peer-reviewed paper published by Cornell University in the arXiv repository.
With information from Space, Science Alert and Forbes