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NASA’s James Webb Telescope maps the weather on exoplanet WASP-43 b

This artist's concept shows what the hot gas giant exoplanet WASP-43 b could look like.  WASP-43 b is a Jupiter-sized planet, about 280 light-years away, in the constellation Sextans.  The planet orbits its star at a distance of about 2.1 million kilometers and completes one orbit in about 19.5 hours.  Because WASP-43 b is so close to its star, it is likely tidally locked: its rotation speed and orbital period are the same, so one side always faces the star.  Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, Ralf Crawford (STScI)
This artist’s concept shows what the hot gas giant exoplanet WASP-43 b could look like. WASP-43 b is a Jupiter-sized planet, about 280 light-years away, in the constellation Sextans. The planet orbits its star at a distance of about 2.1 million kilometers and completes one orbit in about 19.5 hours. Because WASP-43 b is so close to its star, it is likely tidally locked: its rotation speed and orbital period are the same, so one side always faces the star. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, Ralf Crawford (STScI)

Using NASA’s James Webb Telescope, researchers have revealed insights into the weather patterns of the hot gas giant exoplanet WASP-43 b

This ‘hot Jupiter’ exoplanet is smaller and closer than the Sun. It has a very tight orbit, meaning one side is lit in the light and the other side is in the dark.

A recent study published in Nature Astronomy shows the dynamics of this distant world’s atmosphere.

The light and dark side of exoplanet WASP-43 b

Led by Taylor Bell of the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute, the team took advantage of the Webb telescope’s ability to measure temperature variations and detect atmospheric gases over vast cosmic distances. Their findings reveal a contrast between the light and dark of WASP-43 b.

On the light side, temperatures reach 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit; there are also clear skies. On the dark side, however, temperatures drop to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, with thick, high clouds blanketing the atmosphere.

These clouds, collected from precise brightness measurements and 3D climate models, play a key role in shaping our planet’s weather patterns.

The absence of methane: why is this interesting?

The researchers discovered the absence of methane, a major atmospheric component expected on the cooler dark side.

This absence indicates the presence of fierce equatorial winds, which mix the planet’s atmosphere at a speed of 8,000 kilometers per hour.

“The fact that we don’t see methane tells us that WASP-43 b must have wind speeds of about 5,000 miles per hour,” Barstow explains. “If the wind moves the gas from the dayside to the nightside and back again quickly enough, there is not enough time for the expected chemical reactions to produce detectable amounts of methane on the nightside.”

The rapid transport of gases prevents the buildup of methane, revealing the dynamic nature of WASP-43’s atmosphere.

Joanna Barstow of the Open University highlighted the importance of Webb’s observations in unraveling the mysteries of exoplanetary atmospheres. “Webb does gave us a chance to find out exactly which molecules we see and to set limits on the amounts,” she noted.

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