For the first time we now have an idea what the clouds look like on a planet outside our own solar system. This is an amazing find, To think that we know what the clouds of a planet this far away are like seems like science fiction but it is not, it is science today. “By observing this planet with Spitzer and Kepler for more than three years, we were able to produce a very low-resolution ‘map’ of this giant, gaseous planet,” said Brice-Olivier Demory of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Demory is lead author of a paper accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. “We wouldn’t expect to see oceans or continents on this type of world, but we detected a clear, reflective signature that we interpreted as clouds.”
Kepler’s visible-light observations of Kepler-7b’s moon-like phases led to a rough map of the planet that showed a bright spot on its western hemisphere. “With Spitzer and Kepler together, we have a multi-wavelength tool for getting a good look at planets that are billions of miles away,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in Washington. “We’re at a point now in exoplanet science where we are moving beyond just detecting exoplanets, and into the exciting science of understanding them.”
“Kepler-7b reflects much more light than most giant planets we’ve found, which we attribute to clouds in the upper atmosphere,” said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Unlike those on Earth, the cloud patterns on this planet do not seem to change much over time — it has a remarkably stable climate.”
Unfortunately the Kepler mission was ended when it suffered a reaction wheel failure. NASA is currently looking at new missions for it that does not need the precise pointing the reaction wheels provide.