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The Blue Planet Where It Rains Glass, Smells Like Rotten Eggs, and Farts | Science

The Blue Planet Where It Rains Glass, Smells Like Rotten Eggs, and Farts | Science

HD 189733 b is 64 light-years from Earth. It has scorching temperatures of around 1,000 degrees Celsius, rains glass, and winds of more than 8,000 kilometers per hour – Image: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Johns Hopkins University

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in the United States used data from the James Webb Space Telescope to study the exoplanet known as HD 189733 b, a gas giant the size of Jupiter.

They discovered that the planet’s atmosphere contains traces of hydrogen sulfide, the molecule responsible for the distinctive smell of rotten eggs and the gases released by human flatulence.

Its temperatures are scorching at around 1000 degrees Celsius, its rain is made of glass (due to its proximity to the sun and because it is mainly composed of gases) and its winds reach speeds of over 8000 kilometers per hour.

“If your nose could operate at 1,000 degrees Celsius, the atmosphere would smell like rotten eggs,” said Dr. Guangwei Fu, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University who led the research.

HD 189733b is located just 64 light-years from Earth, and is the closest “hot Jupiter” that astronomers can see passing in front of its star. This has made it, since its discovery in 2005, a reference for detailed studies of exoplanet atmospheres, Fu explained.

The exoplanet is about 13 times closer to its star than Mercury is to the Sun, and takes about two Earth days to complete one orbit.

This is one of the first detections of hydrogen sulfide on an exoplanet.

However, finding hydrogen sulfide is a step toward understanding how planets form, the researchers say.

“We’re not looking for life on this planet because it’s too hot,” Fu said. “But finding hydrogen sulfide is a stepping stone to finding this molecule on other planets and better understanding how different types of planets form.”

In addition to detecting hydrogen sulfide and measuring the total sulfur in HD 189733 b’s atmosphere, scientists evaluated its main sources of oxygen and carbon: water, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

“Sulfur is a vital element for building more complex molecules, just like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphate,” Fu said. “Scientists need to study it more to understand how planets form and what they are made of.”

The exoplanet is too hot for life – Image: Roberto Molar Candanosa/Johns Hopkins University

With unprecedented precision, the researchers also ruled out methane in HD 189733 b and measured levels of heavy metals.

Low-mass ice giant planets like Neptune and Uranus contain more metals than gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn, the largest planets in the solar system.

The greater presence of metals suggests that during their early periods of formation, Neptune and Uranus accumulated greater amounts of ice, rock, and other heavy elements than gases such as hydrogen and helium.

Fu explained that scientists want to determine whether this connection also applies to exoplanets.

The James Webb Space Telescope has opened a new window into analyzing the composition of exoplanets – Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, NORTHROP GRUMMAN

revolutionary telescope

James Webb opens a new window into analyzing the chemicals on distant planets and helping astronomers learn more about their origins.

“It is truly a revolution in astronomy,” said Dr. Fu. “It has delivered on our promise and even exceeded our expectations in some respects.”

In the coming months, Fu’s team plans to use data from the space telescope to track sulfur on other exoplanets and understand how high levels of the material affect how far apart they form from their parent stars.

The study was published in the journal Nature.

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