VHS 1256 b, an exoplanet orbiting two stars every 10,000 years and located 40 light-years away from Earth, is enveloped by an atmosphere of clouds comprised of silicate particles ranging from minute specks to small grains. These silicates, which are prevalent in our solar system and compose approximately 95% of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle, are in constant motion, whirling amidst the planet’s persistent cloud coverage. The clouds, in a state of perpetual ascent, intermingle and migrate, producing a remarkable radiance that renders VHS 1256 b the most unpredictable planetary-mass entity observed thus far.
Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a group of researchers examined VHS 1256 b and determined that the planet’s atmosphere undergoes perpetual elevation, mixing, and displacement throughout its 22-hour day. This movement results in the ascent of warmer substances and the descent of cooler ones. The team additionally detected carbon monoxide, methane, and water with remarkable precision through JWST’s data, and even observed traces of carbon dioxide, marking the most extensive identification of molecules observed simultaneously on an exoplanet to date, as stated by NASA.
At altitudes above, where silicate clouds undergo daily churning, the temperature can soar up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. JWST made a groundbreaking discovery that both minuscule and colossal silicate dust particles exist within these clouds. The University of Edinburgh astronomer and co-author, Beth Biller, offered an analogy stating that the finer silicate grains in the atmosphere resemble smoke particles while larger grains resemble scorching hot, minuscule sand particles.
In contrast to its more massive counterparts, VHS 1256 b boasts lesser gravity, which consequently allows its silicate clouds to persist at higher altitudes within its atmosphere, rendering them detectable by JWST. Additionally, this planet is relatively youthful in the grand scheme of planetary timeframes, having only existed for approximately 150 million years. As a consequence of its youthful age, it is currently undergoing a turbulent period of development, much like most young individuals.
The researchers suggest that these discoveries resemble the initial “currency” retrieved from a trove of information that they have just started to explore. Co-author and astronomer from the University of Arizona, Brittany Miles added that while they have detected silicates, comprehending the appropriate granule dimensions and configurations that correspond with distinct cloud types will necessitate a significant amount of supplementary investigation. She noted that this is not the ultimate verdict on this planet, but rather the commencement of an extensive simulation endeavor to accommodate the intricate data from Webb.
The team noted that although other telescopes have observed similar attributes on other planets within the Milky Way, it has been rare for more than one to be detected at a time. Collecting information utilizing the NIRSpec and MIRI of JWST, the team expects that as they analyze the data, they will uncover additional insights into VHS 1256 b.