Mar 17, 2020 - Science

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

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Astronomers capture Earth's atmosphere glowing from space

Photo: NASA

Earth's atmosphere glows from space. This photo taken earlier this month shows the thin copper-tinted limb of the atmosphere as seen from the International Space Station.

How it works: The time-lapse photo was snapped as the orbiting outpost passed 262 miles above Kazakhstan. If you ever want to try to spot the station from your own backyard, you can use this handy tool to find out exactly when the space laboratory will pass overhead.

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Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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Why it matters: The 1.8-billion-pixel panorama is the highest-resolution photo of its kind taken by Curiosity so far.

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A glowing cloud in deep space could unlock how massive stars grow

Photo: ESA/Hubble/NASA/I. Stephens

A pink stellar cloud not far from the Tarantula Nebula 160,000 light-years away is demonstrating how extremely massive stars form.

The state of play: The cloud — known as LHA 120-N 150 — contains dozens of newly forming massive stars and clumps of dust that could help scientists learn more about whether large stars form in dense clusters or in isolation, according to ESA.

Go deeperArrowMar 24, 2020 - Science