On a sizzling faraway planet, the forecast is cloudy . . . with a chance of iron rain.
A few years ago, scientists discovered a new exoplanet (one outside our solar system). They named it WASP-76b. The planet is nearly twice the size of Jupiter, the largest in Earth’s solar system. It floats hundreds of millions of miles closer to its sun than Earth does to ours.
In the beginning, God created day and night (Genesis 1:5). Scientists have studied the effects of the two on animals, plants, humans, oceans, and many other things. Swiss scientist David Ehrenreich and the team wanted to understand differences in day and night on ultra-big, ultra-hot exoplanets like WASP-76b. They studied the exoplanet using a new instrument on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.
They found that the same side of WASP-76b always faces the Sun. So on WASP-76b, it’s always day on one side and always night on the other.
This means that WASP-76b is scorching hot on its daytime side. At 4,350° Fahrenheit, even iron in the planet’s soil evaporates. Strong wind sweeps some of that vaporized iron from the day side to the night side of the planet.
On the night side, temperatures “fall” to about 2,700° Fahrenheit. Clouds appear to form as temperatures drop. Scientists believe the iron probably condenses on the cooler side of the planet, almost certainly turning into rain.
“Like droplets of metal falling from the sky,” muses Christophe Lovis of the University of Geneva. Lovis was part of the research group that published its findings in the journal Nature.
Researchers say iron rain would be extremely dense. It would also pack a pretty good punch if it dropped on you. Ouch.
Vaporized iron has been detected at an even hotter, more distant planet. But Lovis believes the iron stays in a gaseous state around that planet. The iron condensation on WASP-76b is the first iron rain scientists have witnessed.
Swiss graphic novelist Frederik Peeters designed a poster for the research team. On it, a dancing astronaut holds an umbrella in front of an orange waterfall-like downpour. The poster reads: “Singin’ in the Iron Rain.”
There’s no telling whether WASP-76b’s iron showers fall as a drizzle or a deluge—or what else might be raining down besides iron. One thing’s certain, according to Lovis: You’d need a sturdy umbrella—preferably made of a substance that won’t melt.