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Hubble spies blue planet that rains glass in 2,000-degree heat

Sharon Gaudin | July 12, 2013
Blue planet may look like Earth from a distance but has 4,500-mph winds.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has given scientists information about a blue planet 63 light years away that looks a lot like Earth.

However, that might be where the similarities end.

On this planet, dubbed HD 189733b, the daytime temperature is a lot hotter than it is here. NASA scientists report that it's nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and that it may rain glass there, although sideways, in what are believed to be "howling 4,500-mph winds."

Unlike Earth, where the planet's blue color comes from the reflection of the oceans, this other blue planet gets its hue from a hazy, blow-torched atmosphere that has high clouds laced with silicate particles. Those silicates condensing in the blazing heat could form small bits of glass that scatter blue light, according to NASA.

This planet, which was discovered in 2005, is one of the closest exoplanets that can be seen crossing the face of its star.

In 2007, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope measured the infrared light, or heat, from the planet, leading to one of the first temperature maps for an exoplanet, NASA noted.

For its part, the Hubble, has been working for more than two decades. For many years it looked back to about 800 million years after the Big Bang, the cosmic explosion that is believed to mark the creation of the universe. It did that by capturing the light that had been traveling through space since that time.

In 2009, a space shuttle Atlantis mission brought astronauts on a mission to repair and update the orbiting telescope. With new instruments, a new computer unit and several repaired instruments, the Hubble became more powerful and was able to begin looking out toward the edge of the observable universe, probing the early history of the cosmos.

In doing that, the telescope could train its attention on the blue planet.

NASA noted that the Hubble and other observatories have intensely studied HD 189733b and refer to its atmosphere as "changeable and exotic."

"HD 189733b is among a bizarre class of planets called hot Jupiters, which orbit precariously close to their parent stars," NASA reported. "The observations yield new insights into the chemical composition and cloud structure of the entire class."

By trying to understand this one planet's atmosphere and the way clouds affect it, scientists will gain more insight into the physics and climatology of other planets, the space agency said.


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