Episode for August 11th, 2023 Download

Imagine a planet that is so far away from us that it takes 40 years for its light to reach us. Now imagine that this planet has not one, but two stars that it orbits around. And finally, imagine that this planet has clouds made of sand particles that change the brightness of its atmosphere wildly as they move in the air.

This planet, VHS 1256 b, has recently been observed by the James Webb Space Telescope and it is a very interesting world. It is not like any of the planets in our solar system, or even like most of the planets that we have found outside our solar system. It is a type of planet called a brown dwarf, which is somewhere between a giant gas planet and a small star. Brown dwarfs are very hard to study, because they are very faint and cold compared to stars, and very bright and hot compared to planets.

But VHS 1256 b is different from other brown dwarfs, because it has some features that make it easier to observe. First of all, it is very young, only 150 million years old, which is much younger than our sun, at 4.6 billion years old. This means that it is still hot and glowing from its formation, and has not cooled down yet, making it very bright in the infrared.

Second, it is very far away from its two stars, about four times farther than Pluto is from our sun. This means that it does not get much light or heat from its host stars, and also that its light does not get mixed with the light from its stars when we look at it from Earth.

Third, it has a very fast rotation, spinning around once every 22 hours. This means that its atmosphere is constantly changing and moving, creating different patterns and colors on its surface.

These features make VHS 1256 b a perfect target for the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST is the most powerful and advanced telescope ever built, and it can see things that no other telescope can see. It can see infrared light, which is invisible to our eyes, but which reveals a lot of information about the temperature, composition, and structure of objects in space. It can also see very faint and distant objects, like VHS 1256 b, with great clarity and detail.

Using Webb, scientists have been able to see some amazing things about VHS 1256 b’s atmosphere. They have found that it has clouds made of silicate dust, which are tiny particles of rocks like quartz or sand. These clouds are very high in the air, where the temperature is about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit (830 degrees Celsius), which is way hotter than an oven. The clouds have different sizes of dust grains, some as small as smoke and some as large as sand. The size of the dust grains affects how they reflect and scatter light, creating different colors and brightness levels on the planet.

Webb has also been able to see what gasses are in VHS 1256 b’s air. It has found water, methane, carbon monoxide, and maybe carbon dioxide. This is the first time that so many gases are found on a brown dwarf or a planet outside our solar system. These gasses tell us about the chemistry and history of the planet, and how it formed and evolved over time.

VHS 1256 b is a fascinating example of how diverse and complex the universe is. It shows us that there are many types of planets out there that we have not seen before, and that we can learn a lot from them using new technologies like Webb. It also challenges us to think about what makes a planet a planet, and what makes life possible on a planet. VHS 1256 b may not be habitable for us or any other life forms that we know of, but it may have some secrets or surprises that we have not discovered yet.