Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Edinburgh astronomers make sunless planet discoveries

Artist's impression of PSO J318.5-22 Image copyright MPIA/V Ch Quetz
Image caption Artist's impression of PSO J318.5-22

Clouds made of droplets of molten iron have been detected on a sunless world 75 light years from Earth.

The planet-like object, PSO J318.5-22, was already considered one of the strangest ever discovered.

About the same size as Jupiter, it floats freely out on its own in space.

Scientists estimate it is only about 20 million years old. Edinburgh University astronomers used a telescope in Chile to show it is covered in multiple layers of thick and thin cloud.

It has no parent star.

Hot dust

Without the dazzling light of a parent star, the team was able to carry out accurate measurements of the object's varying brightness.

They estimated temperatures inside its clouds to exceed 800C. The clouds were made up of hot dust and molten iron.

Dr Beth Biller, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, said: "This discovery shows just how ubiquitous clouds are in planets and planet-like objects.

"We're working on extending this technique to giant planets around young stars, and eventually we hope to detect weather in Earth-like exoplanets that may harbour life."

The findings are published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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