Iron rain on an alien world
Artist's illustration of the iron rain. Photo: ESO/M. Kornmesser
A telescope in Chile has found a world 640 light-years from Earth that rains liquid iron, adding to the strange tapestry of planets far from our own.
Why it matters: The more that scientists understand about planets circling other stars, the closer they get to finding out just how unique (or common) our solar system — and therefore life — is.
Details: The world, named WASP-76b, is tidally locked to its star, like the Moon is to Earth. The planet’s day side gets so hot that iron evaporates into its atmosphere.
- Winds blow strong enough on the planet that the iron moves from the day side to the night side of the world where it then cools.
- As the atmospheric iron cools, it rains onto the cooler night side.
- The new discovery was made using the ESPRESSO instrument on the Very Large Telescope in Chile.
The big picture: WASP-76b is only one of the many weird exoplanets — planets circling other stars — that are fascinating scientists today.
- The planet HD 189733b has winds that blow up to 5,400 mph and likely rains glass.
- Another world, HD 209458b, orbits so close to its star that its thick atmosphere is evaporating and the planet appears to have a tail like a comet stretching out behind it.
- 55 Cancri e — located about 41 light-years away — is masked by a thick atmosphere that may hide a surface covered entirely in lava.
The bottom line: While many scientists are hunting for another Earth light-years away from our solar system, hundreds of other planets with their own properties are still worthy of study.
Go deeper: Curiosity rover captures a Martian panorama