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Exoplanet Has Winds That Blow at the Speed of Sound

WASP-43b wouldn’t be a great place to live

An artist's conception depicts WASP-43b's orbit around its star. (NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI))
smithsonian.com

In the 22 years since the first detection of a planet outside our solar system, astronomers have learned how to study those planets—more than a thousand confirmed and billions more expected—in detail. They can infer things about these planets' size, their chemical composition, and even their weather. Now, new observations with the Hubble Space Telescope have revealed what it would be like to visit one such exoplanet—a so-called "Hot Jupiter" known as WASP-43b

According to the European Space Agency, WASP-43b would be a pretty hellish place:

The planet has different sides for day and night because it is tidally locked, meaning that it keeps one hemisphere facing the star, just as the Moon keeps one face toward Earth. The Hubble observations show that the exoplanet has winds that howl at the speed of sound from a day side that is hot enough to melt iron – soaring above 1500 degrees Celsius – to the pitch-black night side that sees temperatures plunge to a comparatively cool 500 degrees Celsius.

WASP-43b is around the same size as Jupiter, says EarthSky, but it's twice as dense. It also whips around its star at a staggering clip: an entire year on WASP-43b lasts just 19 hours.

While the sheer number of planets that astronomers are discovering raises the odds of finding a potentially habitable world, some of the planets discovered so far, like WASP-43b, are anything but. 

About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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