For the first time, astronomers have mapped clouds around a planet beyond our solar system — a giant sizzling, Jupiter-like world.
The planet, known as Kepler-7b, is marked by high clouds in the west and clear skies in the east, astronomers, using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes, found.
Previous studies from Spitzer have resulted in temperature maps of planets orbiting other stars, but this is the first look at cloud structures on a distant world.
“By observing this planet with Spitzer and Kepler for more than three years, we were able to produce a very low-resolution ‘map’ of this giant, gaseous planet,” said lead author of the study Brice-Olivier Demory of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
“We wouldn’t expect to see oceans or continents on this type of world, but we detected a clear, reflective signature that we interpreted as clouds,” said Demory.
Kepler’s visible-light observations of Kepler-7b’s moon-like phases led to a rough map of the planet that showed a bright spot on its western hemisphere.
But these data were not enough on their own to decipher whether the bright spot was coming from clouds or heat. The Spitzer Space Telescope played a crucial role in answering this question.PTI