Planet winds of 6,200mph

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The Independent Online

A powerful storm on a planet in another solar system has been spotted by astronomers. Winds blowing at 6,200mph were detected on the distant world, which orbits a Sun-like star 150 light years away. The "exoplanet" HD209458b has about 60 per cent the mass of Jupiter and is located near the constellation of Pegasus. Circling its parent star at just a 20th of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, it is heated to a temperature of 1,000C. But since the planet always has the same side facing the star, one half is very hot while the other is much cooler. "On Earth, big temperature differences inevitably lead to fierce winds, and as our new measurements reveal, the situation is no different on HD209458b," said Dr Simon Albrecht, one of the scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, US, whose research is reported in the journal Nature.

Every 3.5 days the planet moves in front of its star, blocking out a small portion of starlight over a period of three hours. The "transiting" events allowed astronomers on Earth to analyse light patterns providing information about the planet's atmosphere.