This news hit two days ago - a UC Santa Cruz astronomer and colleagues have gotten the first direct data about weather changes on a planet orbiting another star - a member of a binary system 200 light years away. Naturally, one presumes that the kind of weather way out there and yet visible, even indirectly, from here has to be pretty wild. It is, and makes the cover of this week's Nature magazine. The Tracker isn't sure if it's nearly that red on the actual Nature cover shown right. It looked so routine in the original that I took a lesson from NASA and enhanced the image (original here), cranking up the mid tones and contrast with Microsoft's picture editor to make it look really really hot-poker ouchy-ouch hot. Any way one cuts it, the pic is not a true photograph but a computer-aided inference of the data's meaning.
The infrared data from the report are from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, which was massaged to isolate the planet's reflection and glow as it orbited the star, and as it ranged in its highly elliptical orbit while passing in front of and then behind the star as seen from here. Its path carries it from a distance farther from its star than is Venus, and then dips nearly as close as the Moon is from Earth. The temperature of its cloud tops shoot up hundreds of degrees in just a few hours. That's no slow-cookin' Texas barbecue, it's marshmallows-with-a-blowtorch.
Clever reporting prize on this goes to The Register's Lewis Page in the UK. His hed: Force 1800 superhurricanes snapped on far-off world. Take that, Katrina. Page got his hurricane equivalency, he says here, by drawing - all by himself with no press release to lead him by the nose - an extrapolation from the Beaufort Scale for terrestrial cyclones on out to the estimated 5 km/sec velocity of winds exploding from this planet's substellar point at periastron (just showin' off some jargon - from the middle of the near side at closest encounter).
Other Stories and their Stormy Headlines:
- AFP : Distant planet is an orbiting hell ;
- Nat'l Geographic - Victoria Jaggard : Eccentric Exoplanet gets hot flashes ;
- Bad Astronomy - Phil Plait : Weather sizzles on planet that kisses its star ; yes, Plait's a blogger and a ringer (real astronomer), but he wrote a fine headline.
- BBC - Distant planet's roasting orbit ;
- San Francisco Chronicle - David Perlman: Exoplanet runs hot and cold in wild orbit ; He gets some great reax from another planet expert, and notes that we're now feeling heat from a storm that burst when James Monroe was President.
- Bloomberg - Ryan Flinn: NASA Telescope Spots Weather Changes Outside This Solar System ;
- New Scientist - Jessica Griggs : Elliptical orbit gives exoplanet a regular roasting ;
- AP - Seth Borenstein : Odd planet's extreme global warming: Highs of 2240 ; Says here's a planet where "mild" would never enter a weather forecast.
- Space.com Jeanna Bryner : Massive planet sees extreme heat waves/Within six hours, temperatures can soar by more than 1000 degrees ; That's more than 1000 F. More like 700 C ;
- Wired - Clara Moskowitz : Extreme Exoplanet's Wild Ride ;
- Sky and Telescope - Kelly Beatty : HD 80606b: The Hotheaded Exoplanet ; That hed is a perfect mix, for his savvy readership, of obscure terminology with expressively plain English.
- Metro (UK) : The planet with 1,226°C Valentine's Day heat ; That's a timely tie for this exceedingly tiny article. The releases below do mention a Valentine's day transit, as seen from here that day.
- San Jose Mercury News - Michael Torrice : UC Santa Cruz astronomers document distant planet's exploding skies ; Hometown news - The Merc is the nearest big-city daily to the astronomer. Not sure the reporter (or an editor) entirely got the picture. It describes the hot news as occurring as the planet "passed by a nearby star." That's an odd description of a planet's own sun. Deeper, the piece regains its bearings.
- CBC (Canada) : Scientists report dramatic heating of 'eccentric' planet ;
- NPR - A Distant Planet Has An Extreme Forecast ; Audio to come at 6 Eastern.
Grist for the Mill: