The mightiest winds in the Universe: Part 2

In the last post of this two-part series, we visited some of the strongest and biggest storms ever seen in the Universe. When you thought it couldn’t get any worser, some more storms show up and blow everything off the charts!!

Get ready, as we journey through some of the weirdest and strongest storms supposedly anywhere in the Universe. After this journey, I am sure that tornado on Earth will seem like a gentle breeze. Just don’t walk into one though!

Giant storms on Uranus

As much as that title may make you laugh, storms on planet Uranus was an important discovery for the astronomical community. The reason being that when Voyager 2 arrived at the planet, it saw a pale blue world with no activity. The mute appearance puzzled astronomers as the rest of the giants had powerful storms.

Later when astronomers pointed their telescope at Uranus once again (okay, stop laughing) and obtained an infrared image, they saw fierce storms of methane raging under the clouds. Quite unlike what Voyager saw. What is more interesting is that Uranus being so far from the Sun has very little heat to power its storms. But yet, there they are raging and tearing across the planet.

We don’t know for sure but astronomers think that both the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune have an internal heat source which might be the main reasons for the storms.

Hexagon of Saturn

Now this is where things start to get weird. Like, really weird. Whenever you may read the word ‘storm’, you might picture something like a big destructive tube of wind sucking up everything in its path and flinging things in all directions. But if Saturn had life on it and they read the word storm, they would picture something like this.

The Saturnian hexagon marvel

No kidding, a storm like that, shaped like a perfect hexagon is raging on Saturn’s north pole and as far as we know, Nature does like hexagons. You see them in honeycombs, dragonfly eyes, columnar basalt rocks all have hexagons. But a storm being a hexagon was so unusual due to which some people started believing that alien technology was at play here.

Of course, we know this is not the case as now, we may finally have an explanation. Models of the Saturnian atmosphere has shown us how the path of the air currents meander to form a hexagon. While the exact mechanics of this is beyond the scope of this post, a simplified model suggest that perturbations of jets by air currents in the north pole might be the cause for this. More information on the same here.

The nightmares on HD 80606b

As ou Solar System rages with storms, the exoplanets of other systems also have their storms to show. Enter HD 80606b a gas giant located 190 light years away and with a mass of four Jupiters. It orbits it’s star in an elongated elliptical orbit. Something that you would expect from a comet. However it is this orbit that makes all the difference.

As the orbit of this planet takes it close to its star, the atmosphere begins to heat up and the temperatures rise from 530 C to 1230 C in a matter of just six hours!! This extreme rise in heat explodes in the form of high-speed winds.

Artist’s concept of high-powered winds on HD 80606b

Winds speeds reach up to 17,600 km/h all over the planet giving rise to huge planet engulfing storms that last until the orbit of the planet takes it back out into space. In 2009 NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope saw it happen in real-time. On this planet you can really hear the winds scream!!

Thunderstorms on HAT-P11-b

In 2009 astronomers detected a mystery signal coming from the star system HAT-P11-b. Further observation revealed the source to be a Neptune sized planet in the system which we now call HAT-P11-b. Although the source of the signal is still a mystery, a leading theory would be the presence of a lightning storm on the planet.

And this is not any other lightning storm like on Earth. For comparison if a lightning storm did manage to cover the entire Earth, it would mange to produce only a percent of the radio signal produced by HAT-P11-b.

Lightning can be dangerous! Even on Earth.

That alone may give you a sense of the severity of the storm on the exoplanet. However nothing is confirmed about the storm’s existence. But that may change in the future if we detect the presence of hydrogen cyanide in the planet’s atmosphere.

Hydrogen cyanide is formed during chemical reactions triggered during a lightning storm which might be present in abundance on a planet with such a severe storm.

The Glass storm 

And finally we arrive at what is the most horrifying storm in our interstellar neighbourhood. Take a look at this planet. Seems like a nice calm water world to go for a picnic right?

A terror world with a pleasant face

Well, if you desire your life, keep your distance. This world called HD 189733b is a kill zone located 63 light years away from Earth. Whats so terrifying is the type of storms that rage here: glass storms.

If you were to stand on the surface of this world, not only would you be blown away by powerful winds speeding at supersonic speeds (7200km/h), but pieces of glass will tear you apart!! Imagine that for a second. Winds blowing faster than the speed of sound with pieces of molten glass along with it.

The planet is tidally locked to its star which means one side of the planet always faces its star. This results in a cold night side and hot day side and this temperature difference brings about powerful winds. And the glass? Well, that arises from the condensing of magnesium silicate which also scatters blue light and gives the planet its blue colouring.

So, with that we come to an end of this marvellous journey or should I say, frightening and terror filled adventure. Space is marvellous to look at from the cozy blue planet called Earth but when you are out there, you better watch out!!







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