An alien planet with clouds of sand, as seen by the James Webb Telescope

An alien planet with clouds of sand, as seen by the James Webb Telescope

The planet WASP-107b has sand clouds and even sand rain, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

The planet is unlike anything in our solar system.

The gaseous planet is as massive as Neptune, but as large as Jupiter. This means that its density is low. The delicate planet is referred to as the cotton candy planet, meaning the cotton candy planet press release From Radboud University in the Netherlands.

Scientists used the James Webb Telescope to look into the planet’s atmosphere.

When light from a star passes through the atmosphere, it leaves special imprints in the light. This way, researchers can learn more about what kind of materials are there.

In the atmosphere of the planet WASP-107b there are water vapor and sulfur dioxide, and surprisingly, there are clouds of small grains of sand.

The existence of clouds has already been proven on other planets, but this is the first time we have seen the material they are composed of. In this case, the answer is silicates, essentially sand, says Nicolas Crozet of Leiden University In a press release from the University.

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Silicate particles

The planet orbits close to its star and is very hot. Its temperature reaches 500 degrees in the outer atmosphere. A year lasts only six days on this planet.

While clouds on Earth are made of water, WASP-107b contains clouds of silicate particles.

Silicates are chemical compounds that contain, among other things, the elements silicon and oxygen. According to norske lexikon store.

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95% of the mountains on Earth are made up of silicate minerals. It is also the main component of sand, according to a press release about the new study.

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In WASP-107b, silicate molecules behave like water on Earth.

It evaporates and forms clouds and rain.

It evaporates and turns into clouds again

Sand clouds are found very far away in the planet’s atmosphere.

The fact that we see these sand clouds high in the atmosphere means that the sand and raindrops are evaporating into deeper, hotter layers and that the silicate vapor is effectively moving upwards again. There they condense again and form silicate clouds.

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This is explained by Michel Min, one of the people who led the study.

“This is very similar to the water vapor and cloud cycle on our Earth, but with droplets made of sand,” says Min, a researcher at the Dutch SRON Institute for Space Research.

It can consist of different things

Scientists previously knew that clouds could theoretically be formed from things other than water, such as metal, rocks, or salt. According to the American NPR network.

“Now we can actually look at it,” says Laura Kreidberg, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy.

“It makes the strangeness of the cloud made of stone seem very real,” says Kreidberg. She did not participate in the study.

On Saturn’s moon Titan, for example It rains methane gas.

Sand clouds are likely composed of smaller particles than the sand you find on the beach, Lynn Dessen, who participated in the study, tells NPR.

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Describe To the Guardian That the clouds will be like misty dust. There are fast winds in the atmosphere. Grains of sand fly very quickly.

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In the process of exploring the atmosphere

One of the expectations What was connected to the James Webb Telescope was that it would be easier to do this Look at the materials in the atmosphere To other planets.

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It may also provide hints about whether the planet is habitable or contains signs of life.

The telescope is used to look at the atmospheres of several planets.

In 2022, James Webb showed the first indisputable evidence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. According to the European Space Agency.

In September this year, researchers studied Strange planet Which likely contains a hydrogen atmosphere, liquid oceans and sulfur compounds that life produces only here on Earth.

A hot giant Earth called GJ 1214b It is also being investigated. It is covered by a thick cloud layer containing heavier elements. A super-Earth is a medium-sized planet that is larger than Earth but smaller than the gas giants.

James Webb also showed that we need to update the image of one of its planets the Exciting solar system Trappist-1. Planet number two in a row Not a Venus twinBut an abstract stone has no special atmosphere.


Ashrin Derrick et al.: “Sulfur dioxide, silicate clouds, but no methane detected on warm Neptune,” Nature, 15 November. summary.

(This article was first published in

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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