"James Webb" spotted a dust storm on a distant planet

“James Webb” Spotted a Dust Storm on a Distant Planet

The James Webb Orbital Telescope has spotted a dust storm on an exoplanet outside our solar system. This indirectly indicates that the massive brown dwarf VHS 1256 b, located about 40 light-years from Earth, contains water, methane, carbon monoxide, and even carbon dioxide.

Illustration of exoplanet VHS 1256 b

VHS 1256 b was first opened in 2015. It belongs to the class of superjupiters with an atmosphere similar to that of the gas giant of our system, but exceeding it by 12 times in mass.  The exoplanet has a 22-hour day but is far from the two stars it orbits—about four times farther than Pluto is from the Sun. That is, the planet makes one revolution around the stars in 10 thousand Earth years. Scientists also found that the top layer of VHS 1256 b is composed of dense silicate clouds – about as hot as a candle flame.

While other telescopes have been able to piece together as much information as Webb has on VHS 1256 b, this is the first time a single telescope has collected so much data at once.

“No other telescope has identified so many features at the same time for a single target. We see many molecules in the same spectrum from Webb that detail the planet’s dynamic cloud and weather systems,” said Andrew Skemer of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

VHS 1256 b is a relatively young planet – it is only 150 million years old, while our Earth is about 4.6 billion. As it gets older, scientists believe it will cool, causing the massive cloud cover in its sky to dissipate. By then, the planet will be languishing in its own searing cloud mess.