Astronomers Discover an Odd Planet That Snows Sunscreen

Friday, 27 October 2017 - 7:23PM
Space
Astronomy
Weird Science
Friday, 27 October 2017 - 7:23PM
Astronomers Discover an Odd Planet That Snows Sunscreen
NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon
With every new planetary discovery that astronomers make, the universe becomes an even more intriguing and exciting place.

Take, for example, one planet where nobody would ever have to worry about sunburn - Kepler-13Ab, which exists far outside our solar system, has a very peculiar weather pattern which means that part of the globe is constantly experiencing snow made out of titanium oxide, the main ingredient of most forms of sunscreen.

Of course, because the universe is never particularly fair, there is absolutely no need to protect from the sun while enjoying Kepler-13Ab's snowfall. The planet it tidally locked in rotation around its star, which means that it rotates so that the same side of the planet it facing the sun at all times, similar to how the dark side of the moon is perpetually facing away from our own planet. Naturally, the titanium oxide snow occurs on the dark side of Kepler-13Ab, meaning that the snow never falls in the sunshine.

If a human were ever to walk on the surface of the bright side of Kepler-13Ab, they still wouldn't need to worry about the dangers of sunburn - because the temperature is approximately 5000 degrees Kelvin. It's hard to complain too much about harmful UV radiation when your bones are on fire.


Kepler-13Ab falls into the category of planets known as "hot Jupiters" - they're big, gaseous, and generally, as the name would suggest, very hot. Jupiter itself is considered a failed star by some astronomers, having not quite gained enough mass and energy when forming to ignite and turn into another miniature sun.

What's particularly interesting about Kepler-13Ab - aside from the sunscreen snow - is that its upper atmosphere is actually fairly cool, which isn't normally the case for a hot Jupiter that's orbiting close to its star. The planet also has a particularly strong gravitational pull, which makes for its unique titanium oxide cycle.

The titanium oxide starts off as clouds of vapor, which, when they reach the dark side of the planet, cool down and get pulled downwards in the form of snow into Kepler-13Ab's atmosphere. The snow that breezed round to the bright side of the planet is then re-vaporized, boiled off by the heat so that it forms in clouds, and the cycle repeats.

This is all a nice reminder that space is really weird, and that there's plenty we haven't yet learned about the various different types of planets that litter the cosmos. The next time you're in the Kepler system and you find yourself looking for some beach supplies, you'll know where to find some cheap sunscreen - if you can endure the heat.
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