Cloudy With A Chance Of Rubies
published during a waning gibbous moon.
12/16/2016

Listen, Lucy. Skies with diamonds are nice to dream about, but there are more colorful gemstones that you could use for the sky. Just take a look at the exoplanet, HAT-P-7b, located 1,040 light years away from Earth. It’s a huge gas giant that has clouds made up of the same materials that make up rubies and sapphires.

rubies

This artist’s impression shows planet HAT-P-7b located 1,000 light years away. Credit: University of Warwick, Matt Garlick

In a paper published in Nature Astronomy, researchers announced that observations of the planet showed that the planet had detectable weather. The astronomers monitored the light reflecting off the planet and noted tiny variations that gave them clues to what was going on in the planet’s atmosphere, and what that atmosphere might be made of.

“These results show that strong winds circle the planet, transporting clouds from the night side to the dayside. The winds change speed dramatically, leading to huge cloud formations building up then dying away. This is the first detection of weather on a gas giant planet outside the solar system.” David Armstrong, one of the authors of the study said.

Researchers believe that those huge cloud formations aren’t like the boring water vapor clouds on our planet. Instead, HAT-P-7b’s clouds are likely comprised of corundum, the mineral associated here on Earth with rubies and sapphires.

rubies

A ruby crystal. Rubies are the red form of the mineral corundum. Credit: StrangerThanKindness/Wikipedia

Though it might be pretty, HAT-P-7b wouldn’t be a great place to visit. For starters, it’s a gas giant 1.4 times the size of Jupiter, and, like Jupiter, has violent storms. Then there’s the heat. The temperature on the warm side of the planet is a blistering 2586.85 degrees Celsius, and the planet is tidally locked, which means that the same side always faces the sun.

It’s not inhabitable, by any means, and the harsh environmental conditions would test the limits of even our most advanced automated technology (not to mention the prohibitive distance that would make getting there a logistical nightmare). But if someday, someone could get even a photo of those kaleidoscope skies, it might be worth it.