Surviving the Heat

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Surviving the Heat

Venus will reign as the “morning star” for the rest of the year. It’s the shiniest planet in the solar system. Because of its global cloud cover, it reflects more than three-quarters of the sunlight that strikes it. That’s compared to about 30 percent for Earth and just 12 percent for the Moon.

Scientists have found a brighter planet about 230 light-years away, in the constellation Sculptor. LTT 9779b reflects as much as 80 percent of the light from its parent star. That makes it the most reflective planet yet seen anywhere.

It’s classified as an “ultra-hot Neptune.” It’s a little bigger and more massive than Neptune, the Sun’s fourth-largest planet. But while Neptune is the Sun’s most remote major planet, LTT 9779b is so close in that it’s getting roasted — the dayside temperature hits more than 3,000 degrees.

At that temperature, the atmosphere may be saturated with silicates — the material that makes glass and sand. It also may contain metals, including titanium. In the lower atmosphere, these compounds are gasses. But at the top of the atmosphere, they condense to form clouds.

Scientists say the clouds are a surprise. At such high temperatures, the planet’s atmosphere should be blowing off into space. But the metals in the clouds may act as a protective lid, making the atmosphere harder to strip away — and keeping LTT 9779b intact.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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