Clouds on the massive exoplanet HAT-P-7b could be made of rubies and sapphires, new research suggests.
Writing in the journal Nature Astronomy, researchers from the University of Warwick in England say the discovery was made when observing weather patterns on the planet, which is 1,000 light years away.
It is the first time weather patterns on a gas giant exoplanet have been observed, researchers said. The researchers also said they monitored likely “visually stunning” clouds that could be made of corundum, a mineral found in rubies and sapphires, as they moved around the planet.
Despite the potential riches of precious stones, HAT-P-7b is not a comfortable place to be. For one, the planet is believed to be 16 times bigger than Earth. It is also rocked by “violent weather systems, catastrophic storms" and high temperatures reaching 2,500 degree Celsius. The planet is also tidally locked; one side faces the planet’s star all the time, making one side of the planet hot and the other cold.
Researchers were able to discern an equatorial jet “with dramatically variable wind speeds,” that push “vast amounts of cloud across the planet.”
"Using the NASA Kepler satellite, we were able to study light reflected from HAT-P-7b's atmosphere, finding that the atmosphere was changing over time,” said David Armstrong in Warwick's Astrophysics Group. "These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the dayside. The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up then dying away. This is the first detection of weather on a gas giant planet outside the solar system."
HAT-P-7b was first discovered in 2008. It is 500 times more massive than Earth and 40 percent bigger than Jupiter. Its star is about twice the size of our sun.