Have you ever fallen asleep laying in the sun, only to wake up with a nasty sunburn? Well, if you lived on the planet Kepler-13Ab, you wouldn’t have such a problem. Because on this planet, located outside of our solar system, a team of researchers led by Thomas Beatty at Pennsylvania State University discovered that it literally rains sunscreen. Using the Hubble telescopes Wide Field Camera 3, the team discovered that Kepler-13Ab has an atmosphere which is cooler at higher altitudes, an unusual situation for hot gas planets which orbit so close to their stars.
On most gas giant planets like Kepler-13Ab (the closest in our solar system being Jupiter) there is titanium oxide in the atmosphere. That oxide absorbs light and reradiates it as heat, causing these gaseous giants to grow even warmer than they already are. But in the unique case of Kepler-13Ab, researches noted what appeared to be ferocious winds on the planet that push the titanium oxide to the dark side of the planet. There, it condenses into crystalline flakes that form clouds, and rain the substance back down on to the planet. Titanium oxide is an active ingredient in some sunscreens, and offers sun protection.
The strength of gravity on Kepler-13Ab is six times greater than that of Jupiter, and so the planet pulls the titanium oxide snow down from the clouds in the high atmosphere, and traps it inside the lower atmosphere. This means that what is essentially sunscreen snow is permanently falling and being trapped in the sky on half of the planet, while the other half hits temperatures of 5,000 degrees. Thomas Beatty, the assistant research professor of astronomy, had this to say about the findings:
“Presumably, this precipitation process is happening on most of the observed hot Jupiters, but those gas giants all have lower surface gravities than Kepler-13Ab. The titanium oxide snow doesn’t fall far enough in those atmospheres, and then it gets swept back to the hotter dayside, revaporizes, and returns to a gaseous state.”
“In many ways, the atmospheric studies we’re doing now on these gaseous ‘hot Jupiter’ kinds of planets are test beds for how we’re going to do atmospheric studies of terrestrial, Earth-like planets.”
If you’re a pale person who is dreading the upcoming summer burn, maybe you should consider a relocation to Kepler-13Ab. Although, the heat of the planet would destroy your body, not to mention you’d have no way of getting there, unless you’ve got a cool secret spaceship.
Guess you’ll just have to slip slop slap instead.