The Five Craziest Exoplanets Ever Discovered
by Alfredo Carpineti
Photo credit: Artist’s impression of HD189773 Ab by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons
Living on Earth is very dangerous. We have brought destruction and death to every corner of the globe, and even when we are not responsible for the damage, Mother Nature still threatens us with the likes of earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes. Every day is a fight to survive against all the obstacles thrown at us by our planet. We might think we would do better elsewhere in the galaxy – but when we look at some other hellish worlds we have found, you may reconsider.
If one day we find a way to visit other worlds, these are the five worst places we could pick.
This extrasolar planet orbits an orange dwarf star about 63 light-years away from the Solar System. The planet is characterized by an intense blue color due to the presence of magnesium silicate (the same components of talc) microcrystals which significantly scatter the light of its star. Light scattering (although on different molecules) is what gives the sky its color here on Earth.
A bright blue planet might almost seem poetic, but those grains of space talc are pushed around the planet by winds up to 9,700 kilometers per hour (over 6,000 miles per hour). Adding to the fact that the average temperature of the planet is over 800 degrees Celsius (1,500 degrees Fahrenheit), the planet is constantly being swept by a horizontal rain of hot sand that would grind anything that it encounters.
Beta Pictoris b
A yet to be observed exoplanet is believed to orbit the star Beta Pictoris, and while we wait for the direct confirmation of its existence, we already know how dangerous and deadly it would be to human life. The planet has a mass between four and 11 times that of Jupiter, and it’s responsible for deviating and pulverizing a large swarm of comets. These comets have generated a 200 million billion ton carbon monoxide cloud that has enveloped the planet.
Carbon monoxide is highly toxic to humans, but it could be an important indication of life. It only takes about 100 years for the ultraviolet rays of a star to break up the molecules, which implies that the cloud is constantly being replenished. Scientists estimate a large comet must be destroyed every five minutes to sustain the poisonous cloud which envelops the planet.
If you are a fan of planetary-wide cataclysms, look no further than WASP-12b. The exoplanet is 1.4 times the mass of Jupiter, but it is only 3 million kilometers (2 million miles) from its star. The vicinity has profound effects on the planet: the atmosphere is being sucked on by its parent star and the planet is no longer spherical, but it is actually being squished towards the star.
This is not all, as the energy from the star has made the planet expand to six times the volume of Jupiter and the planet is now so hot – it has a surface temperate of 2,250 degrees Celsius (4,085 degrees Fahrenheit) – that it shines in infrared.
PSR J1719-1438 b
Let’s take a trip across a diamond planet, what could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters PSR J1719-1438 b is not exactly made of diamonds. It is the densest planet ever discovered, packing 330 times the mass of the Earth in only 64 times the volume, making the carbon material that makes up the planet into a crystal denser than the diamonds we find on Earth.
Unknown geology is not the only risk factor for this planet. The planet orbits a millisecond pulsar – rapidly rotating neutron stars – which spins on itself every 5.8 milliseconds and emits strong magnetic field. These fields will lead to the emission of a vast amount of X-rays and gamma rays that would kill any living being foolish enough to get close.
A world completely covered in water might entice the sailors out there, but don’t pick GJ 1214b. The planet is a super-Earth and the most likely candidate to be an ocean world. Unfortunately, it is a mere 2 million kilometers (1.2 million miles) from its star which heats the planet to temperatures ranging from 120 to 280 degrees Celsius (250 to 540 degrees Fahrenheit): GJ 1214b is thought to be a steam water world. The consequences of this state are quite peculiar. Some models indicate that water could be found in steam, liquid, superliquid, solid and in plasma state on these types of planets.