Signs of cloudy skies seen in two exoplanet atmospheres

The sizes and skies of GJ 1214b and GJ 436b, shown as artist illustrations, are compared with those of Earth and Neptune.


Exoplanet GJ 1214b has high, dusty clouds right now, and GJ 436b may have some too. But the skies of these planets are probably unlike anything seen in the solar system, astronomers report January 2 in Nature.

Neptune-sized GJ 436b is about 33 light-years from Earth in the constellation Leo, and GJ 1214b, a super-Earth, is about 42 light-years from Earth in constellation Ophiuchus. Earth- to Neptune-sized exoplanets make up most of the distant worlds discovered to date. But it’s hard to know what the atmospheres and other features of these planets look like because the solar system doesn’t have planets that fall between Earth’s size and Neptune’s.

The new results provide astronomers with some clues.

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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