Academic journal article Science Scope

Astrophysicists Prepare Weather Forecasts for Planets beyond Our Solar System

Academic journal article Science Scope

Astrophysicists Prepare Weather Forecasts for Planets beyond Our Solar System

Article excerpt

Using sensitive observations from the Kepler space telescope, researchers have uncovered evidence of daily weather cycles on six extra-solar planets seen to exhibit different phases. Such phase variations occur as different portions of these planets reflect light from their stars. Among the findings are indications of cloudy mornings on four of them and hot, clear afternoons on two others.

Because the planets are very near to their stars, they are expected to rotate counter-clockwise--just as the majority of objects in our solar system do--with the right side moving in the direction of each planet's orbit. This causes an eastward movement of the planet's surface and therefore an eastward circulation of atmospheric winds. As a result, clouds that form on the planet's night side, where temperatures are cooler while it faces away from its host star, would be blown to the planet's morning side.

"As the winds continue to transport the clouds to the day side, they heat up and dissipate, leaving the afternoon sky cloud-free," says Lisa Esteves, the study's lead author. "These winds also push the hot air eastward from the meridian, where it is the middle of the day, resulting in higher temperatures in the afternoon."

For four of the planets, the researchers saw excess brightness in the Kepler data that correspond to when the morning side is visible. For the other two, they saw an excess when the evening side is visible. …

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