By The Huffington Post
One of the best-studied nearby extrasolar planets — a body just a little larger than Earth — is swaddled in alien clouds, researchers have found. It is the smallest and most Earth-like world yet to yield the secrets of its atmosphere. Another study has found tantalizing hints of clouds on a larger, Neptune-sized world. The pair of discoveries, reported in Nature, suggests that clouds may envelop many exoplanets.
“We always knew the clouds must be there for some planets, but now we have a wave of results telling us that clouds are actually very common,” says Heather Knutson, a planetary astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and lead author of the second paper.
The two planets are among the closest to our Solar System to have been found so far. The super-Earth discovery involves GJ 1214b, just 13 parsecs (about 42 light years) from us, which whirls around a red dwarf star once every 38 hours. As the planet passes across the star’s face, some of the starlight should filter through the planet's atmosphere, revealing its composition. . . .
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