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Cloudy, With a Chance of Iron Rain

18 Feb 2016, 18:26 UTC
Cloudy, With a Chance of Iron Rain
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Many exoplanets being discovered are covered with thick clouds, offering an opportunity to analyze their compositions but hiding the lower atmosphere and surface from measurement and view. This artist rendering of Kepler-7b is based Kepler Space Telescope data and shows that half of the dayside of the planet is covered by a large cloud. Statistical comparison of more than 1,000 atmospheric models show that these clouds are most likely made of Enstatite, a common Earth mineral that is in vapor form at the extreme temperature on Kepler-7b. (NASA/ edited by Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

From an Earthcentric point of view, rain of course means falling water. We can have storms with falling dust — I experienced a few of those while a reporter in India — but rain is pretty much exclusively H2O falling from the clouds. But as the study of exoplanets moves aggressively into the realm of characterizing these distant planets after they are detected, the concepts of rain and clouds are changing rapidly.
We already know that it rains methane on the moon Titan, sulfuric acid on Venus and ammonia, helium and, yes, water, on Jupiter and Saturn. Some have even posited that carbon — in the ...

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