Earth has nothing on this exoplanet’s lightning storms

HAT-P-11b has some intense electric weather

lightning storm

EXOPLANET SPARKS Lightning storms on Earth (shown) pale in comparison to those speculated to occur on HAT-P-11b, a planet 124 light-years away.

C. Clark/NOAA

Hair standing on end during a thunderstorm is a bad sign — it means lightning is on the way. On exoplanet HAT-P-11b, though, static hair might be the least of your worries. A barrage of lightning striking 530 times as often per square kilometer as storms in the United States could be the cause of a surge of radio waves detected from the planet several years ago, Gabriella Hodosán of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and colleagues suggest online April 23 in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In 2009, astronomers recorded radio waves coming from the HAT-P-11 system that ceased when the planet slipped behind its star, suggesting the planet was the source of the signal. A second look in 2010 found no radio waves.  

Scientists have detected lightning on planets closer to home, including on Venus and Jupiter, but not on a planet orbiting another star. HAT-P-11b is too close to its star for astronomers to see visible flashes of light. But an infrared telescope might pick up a stockpile of hydrogen cyanide created by the electrical discharge.

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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