Exoplanets: Strange New Worlds
Around a distant star 420 light years away is a planet with such huge rings that they’re 200 times larger than the rings of Saturn, J1407b. The rings are about 74,560,000 miles in diameter and contain about as much mass as Earth itself. Gaps in the rings, like we see in Saturn’s rings, are likely created by exomoons orbiting around the planet, clearing out paths between the rings and keeping them distinct.
(Image credit: Ron Miller)
The Planet of Burning Ice
The most remarkable things happen when you push physics to extremes.
Far away in the Gliese star system is a Neptune-sized planet called Gliese 436 b. This world is covered in ice that burns constantly at 822.2˚ Fahrenheit (439˚ C).
The reason why the water doesn’t liquify and then turn into steam is due to the massive gravity of the planet - it exerts so much force on the water that the atoms are bound tightly together as a solid: burning ice.
(Image credit: ABC Science)
The Diamond Planet
At about 7.8 times the mass of Earth, 55 Cancri e is an extremely carbon-rich planet orbiting a carbon-rich star. The intense density of the planet means that about 2/3rds of this planet’s core is made up of diamond. It’s literally a giant diamond (larger than Earth).
(Image credit: CfA)
Hd 188753 Ab is a planet candidate with three suns. That’s more than even Luke Skywalker got! It turns out that binary star systems are actually quite common, however, and there are many worlds out there where the sunsets would happen twice (or more) a day. Maybe one day a lucky couple will sit beneath a pair of setting suns, holding hands as each star dips below the alien horizon.
(Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/Kepler Mission)
The Water World (Miller’s Planet?)
GJ 1214b is 42 light years away from Earth. It’s 25% rock surrounded by 75% water. Its surface is an endless ocean not too dissimilar from what you’d see floating on a boat in the middle of the ocean on Earth.
As you go deeper below the surface though, you’d eventually hit ice. The water surrounding the core isn’t ice because of temperature though: the pressure of the water above it is so intense that it crushes the water below from a liquid into a solid form known as “ice VII”.
(Image credit: Found on Kurir)
Kepler-438b orbits a star 470 light years away. It receives a similar amount of energy from its sun as does Earth. Its surface temperature is perfect for liquid water.
On the Earth Similarity Index it’s received a 0.88, the highest score of any world (except of course Earth). Liquid water almost certainly exists there and with it, the best chance for alien life.
This is the sort of planet that makes me wonder when I look up at the stars, if somewhere far away, there isn’t someone looking back.
(Image credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech)