There is a saying that the universe may not only be stronger than we imagine, but also stronger than we can imagine.
I imagine that many unimaginable things will come to light from far out in due course. These concepts are all really ‘far out’. One just has ‘come to light’, so to speak.
There is a giant planet beyond our solar system called Kepler-13Ab. It is much bigger than Jupiter and is hot. This planet is part of the Kepler-13 system, which is 1 730 light years away from earth; so, no earthling is going there for a holiday just yet.
The entire star system is amazing. There are three stars which orbit around each other. There are the three ‘suns’ called Kepler 13A, 13B and 13C. The A star is very large, the B star much smaller and the C star an orange dwarf star.
The planet of interest, the Kepler-13Ab, orbits very close to the A star – in fact, so close that it is ‘tidally locked’, which means that it always has one side facing the sun. Our moon is the same. There is no such thing as ‘the dark side of the moon’. Our moon rotates at the same speed as its orbit, 28 days, and so always presents the same face to earth, but sunlight covers all its surface as it rotates.
Now back to Kepler-13Ab. Astronomers at Penn State University, in the US, have used the Hubble Space Telescope to discover that Kepler-13Ab has an atmosphere in which titanium oxide continually ‘snows’ on the right side of the planet.
This astronomy team is led by Thomas Beatty has published results in the October issue of The Astronomical Journal. It seems that the light-absorbing gaseous form of titanium oxide is removed from the day side of the planet by a combination of the extreme heat and great winds that blow it around to the night side of the planet. There, it condenses into ‘snowflakes’, which then precipi- tate down to the planet. It seems that much of this is trapped in the lower atmosphere of the night side of the planet. This observation confirms a theory of a few years ago that such precipitation would occur. The massive gravity of the planet also plays a role and virtually ‘pulls’ the titanium oxide ‘snow’ out of the atmosphere.
It also seems that much of the ‘snow’ gets swept out of the lower atmosphere of the night side and returned to the hot day side, where it vapourises again. This discovery will lead to much more analysis and will, no doubt, be one of many to come.
What is important in contemplating these things is to bear in mind the degree to which one has to ‘mind-stretch’ so as not to miss something. When one examines the strange new phenomena of deep space, one has to be prepared to encounter anything that the laws of physics allow for. That set of considerations is a mighty large collection of possibilities.
It is all too easy to disregard some possibility as being too way out and not feasible, merely because it has not been part of one’s experience. Even with the planets and moons in our own solar system, there is now speculation that life may exit there. What is more, not only unicellular life, but maybe fish swimming around in oceans under ice cover of the moons of the large planets.
With each new amazing discovery, the spectrums of possibility widen. This certainly provides for a lot of fun, wondering what will come next.
Dr Kemm is a nuclear physicist and is CEO of Nuclear Africa (Pty) Ltd as well as chairperson of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation. He sits on the board of advisers of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, based in Washington DC. He is also a board member of GoNuclear Inc and EFN: USA, both based in Colorado, US – firstname.lastname@example.org