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The Weather on Kepler-7b

Dave Reneke’s wrap-up of space and astronomy news.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes have created the first cloud map of a planet beyond our solar system, a sizzling Jupiter-like world known as Kepler-7b. The planet is marked by high clouds in the west and clear skies in the east. 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 3 years, we were able to produce a very low-resolution ‘map’ of this giant, gaseous planet,” said 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.”

Kepler has discovered more than 150 exoplanets, and Kepler-7b was one of the first. The telescope’s problematic reaction wheels prevent it from hunting planets any more, but astronomers continue to pore over almost 4 years of collected data.

Kepler watches for a planet to cross in front of its star, blocking a tiny fraction of the star’s light. By measuring how much the star dims during such a transit, astronomers can calculate the planet’s size, and by observing the time between successive events they can derive how long it takes the planet to...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.