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Beyond Earthly Skies

Patchy Clouds on an Exotic World

21 Oct 2013, 10:00 UTC
Patchy Clouds on an Exotic World
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Figure 1: Artist’s impression of Kepler-7b (left), a gas giant planet 1.6 times the radius of Jupiter (right). Kepler-7b is the first exoplanet to have its clouds mapped. The cloud map was produced using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT.Using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes, a team of astronomers have created a cloud map of a scorchingly hot gas giant planet known as Kepler-7b. This planet has a mass of 0.44 ± 0.04 Jupiter mass and a size of 1.61 ± 0.02 Jupiter radii. The low mass and large size gives Kepler-7b an exceptionally low density of just 14 percent the density of liquid water. Kepler-7b circles its host star in a tight 4.89-day orbit. By detecting infrared light from Kepler-7b, Spitzer was able to measure the planet’s temperature, estimating it to be between 1,100 K and 1,300 K. This is somewhat too cool for a planet that orbits so close to its host star. However, this can be explained by the high reflectivity observed for Kepler-7b, where the planet reflects a larger faction of light coming from its host star and so does not heat up as much. Such a high reflectivity ...

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