Scientists used NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to measure Super-Jupiter's rotation by analyzing its atmosphere brightness levels. The study is the first one to measure the exoplanet's rotation using direct imaging.
Lead researcher Daniel Apai from the University of Arizona said the results were very exciting because it gave the scientific community a novel way of exploring exoplanets' atmospheres that can also measure the rate of rotation. The exoplanet 2M1207b is four times bigger than our own Jupiter, thus earning the name Super-Jupiter.
Super-Jupiter is the companion of a failed star, which is commonly known as brown dwarf 2M1207. The exoplanet orbits the brown dwarf at a 5 billion-mile distance. They are approximately 170 light-years from Earth.
Using Hubble's direct imaging, the researchers were able to measure Super-Jupiter's brightness variation as it orbits. Using Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, the researchers concluded that Super-Jupiter rotates roughly every 10 hours, which is almost the same rate as our Jupiter.
The changes in brightness were attributed to the cloud patterns in its atmosphere. The new technique was able to confirm not only the presence of clouds but also its patterns. The researchers said the layers of clouds in Super-Jupiter's atmosphere were colorless and sporadic.
Super-Jupiter's first observation through Hubble was a decade ago. Initial findings suggested that the atmosphere can produce 'rain clouds' that are made of vaporized rock or silicates. Deeper atmosphere observations revealed the formation of iron droplets that fall like rain. These iron droplets then evaporate upon entrance to the atmosphere's lower levels.
"So at higher altitudes it rains glass, and at lower altitudes it rains iron. The atmospheric temperatures are between about 2,200 to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit," said lead author Yifan Zhou from the University of Arizona.
Super-Jupiter is approximately 10 million years old and is therefore still in its contraction and cooling stages, making it so hot it glows brightest when observed in infrared light. Putting it in perspective, our own Jupiter is roughly 4.5 billion years go.
Apai said that the recent study proves Hubble and the new James Webb Space Telescope can analyze exoplanets' cloud formations based on the variation of brightness levels. The research was published in The Astrophysical Journal on Feb. 18.