Webb Gets Clear View of Failed Star 40 Light Years Away, It Has People Awestruck

A hot, young, and amazing planet. This is what scientists here on Earth have discovered when looking at data from the James Webb Space Telescope, and the details about this place are simply breathtaking.
Webb telescope reveals the secrets of yet another distant planet 11 photos
Photo: NASA//ESA/CSA/J. Olmsted
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James Webb has been in business one million miles (1.5 million km) from home for more than a year now, and the wealth of data it sent back during this time is simply amazing. Scores of scientific teams are already at work going through it, and new discoveries are announced almost on a daily basis.

The latest Webb-related piece of news has to do with a little-known planet called, in an unattractive way, VHS 1256 b. It was first spotted in 2015 orbiting not one, but two stars at a distance of 40 light-years from Earth.

The planet is about as big as Jupiter, and it’s of the brown dwarf variety – meaning a huge celestial body, but just not huge enough to allow for nuclear fusion, and that’s why they’re also called failed stars…

The planet orbits its stars at a distance four times that between our Sun and Pluto (which is 3.7 billion miles or almost six billion km). Because of this, it takes it roughly 10,000 years to go around them. Its rotation period is, however, much faster, as a day there seems to last just 22 of our Earth hours.

All of the above sounds good and all, but it’s not something we haven't seen before on other planets. What is special about this one is that Webb really managed to look deep down into its atmosphere.

The planet’s distance from its star allowed the telescope to observe it directly, without interference from blinding light. Also, its rather weak gravity compared to other brown dwarfs means the atmosphere sits in plain view for the proper tool to observe.

Webb telescope reveals the secrets of yet another distant planet
Photo: NASA//ESA/CSA/J. Olmsted
The Webb data was studied by a team of researchers from the University of Arizona, led by Brittany Miles. This crew was able to interpret that and find some very interesting things about the place, some of them never before seen in such detail and quantity.

First up, VHS 1256 b’s atmosphere is very hot, with temperatures there reaching 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (830 degrees Celsius). It is filled with silicate clouds on a constant move, churning and bringing the hotter material below up, and pushing to cooler one down.

As per the team, the brightness changes resulting from this constant motion of the clouds make the place “the most variable planetary-mass object known to date.” But what’s even more important than that is what the atmosphere contains.

We know of other planets having things like water, methane, and carbon monoxide and dioxide. We are usually able to detect them one by one, but Webb managed to pick them all up in the atmosphere of VHS 1256 b in one go, with its instruments pointed at the place for just a few hours.

According to scientists, “no other telescope has identified so many features at once for a single target,” making the findings the “largest number of molecules ever identified all at once on a planet outside our solar system.”

We’re not told what the discovery of so many elements at once can mean for our understanding of the place (given the other conditions there, life as we know it is, of course, not possible), but the study of the planet will continue, and there is “unending potential for additional discoveries.” Teams will continue to go through the data about this place, and further exciting things might be announced in the near future.
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Editor's note: Gallery shows other James Webb images.

About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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