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"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 co-author Brice-Olivier Demory of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US.
So the team used Spitzer to gather further clues about the planet's atmosphere. They determined that light from the planet's star was bouncing off cloud tops located on the west side of Kepler-7b.
"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 from Nasa's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, US, who works on the Kepler telescope team.
"Unlike those on Earth, the cloud patterns on this planet do not seem to change much over time - it has a remarkably stable climate."
Nasa says the findings are an early step towards using similar techniques to study the atmospheres of exoplanets that are more like Earth in composition and size.
Paul Hertz, director of Nasa's astrophysics division in Washington DC commented: "We're at a point now in exoplanet science where we are moving beyond just detecting [them], and into the exciting science of understanding them."
indicating that the clouds remain more or less in the same place above the "surface" of the planet. Sort of like Jupiter's red spot.
Apparently so. But I think it's more a matter of figuring out what part of the spectrum of the entire system (star and planets) comes from the planet. I don't think the planet can be resolved as a separate body from the star.
But they can actually measure the reflecting light of the planet too?
Three planetary researchers from SRON and the University of Amsterdam, Theodora Karalidi, Daphne Stam and Joop Hovenier, have calculated that we can determine whether clouds on an exoplanet contain liquid water by measuring the planet’s polarisation signal. Polarisation describes the direction in which light waves vibrate. Most stars emit unpolarised light: light waves have no preferred direction of vibration. When starlight is reflected by a planet, it usually becomes polarised: the reflected light waves vibrate in a preferred direction.