Astronomers have discovered a planet so extreme that it makes our sister planet “twisted”, Venus – with its 900 degree Fahrenheit heat, corrosive sulfuric clouds and a surface atmosphere 90 times denser than that of Earth that crushed nine Soviet probes – they look like one Disney World theme park.
A strange and terrifying planet
Scientists at McGill University, York University and the Indian Institute of Science Education announced the discovery of a strange Earth-sized exoplanet, K2-141b, which presents “the evaporation and precipitation of rocks, supersonic winds that spread over 5000 km / h, an ocean of melted magma 100 kilometers deep and daylight endless on two thirds of its surface. ”
First weather forecasts – a rocky atmosphere
“The study is the first to make predictions about weather conditions on the K2-141b that can be detected hundreds of light years away with state-of-the-art telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope,” says the lead author Giang Nguyen at York University, which worked with the team using computer simulations to predict conditions on K2-141b with a surface, ocean and atmosphere composed of the same ingredients: rocks. The extreme climate predicted by his analysis can permanently change the surface and atmosphere of K2-141b over time.
Perpetual daylight, 3000 C, vaporized rocks
McGill University reports that the team found that about two-thirds of K2-141b faces perpetual daylight – instead of the illuminated hemisphere we are used to on Earth. K2-141b belongs to a subset of rocky planets that orbit very close to its star. This proximity keeps the exoplanet blocked gravitationally.
The night side experiences cold temperatures below -200 C. The day side of the exoplanet, at an estimated 3,000 C, is hot enough to not only melt rocks, but also vaporize them, creating a thin atmosphere in some areas.
“Our discovery probably means that the atmosphere extends just beyond the coast of the magma ocean, making it easier to locate with space telescopes,” he says. Nicolas Cowan, professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at McGill University.
The atmosphere of rock vapor created by extreme heat undergoes precipitation, just like the water cycle on Earth, reports McGill, “where water evaporates, rises into the atmosphere, condenses and falls back like rain, the same happens with sodium , silicon monoxide, and silicon dioxide in K2-141b.
“On Earth, rain returns to the oceans, where it will once again evaporate and the water cycle repeats itself. In K2-141b, the mineral vapor formed by the evaporated rock is swept to the frozen night side by supersonic winds and the rocks ‘rain’ back into the magma ocean. The resulting currents flow back to the hot daytime side of the exoplanet, where the rock evaporates once again. “
The cycle on K2-141b is not as stable as that of Earth, say the scientists. The return flow from the magma ocean to the diurnal side is slow and, as a result, they predict that the mineral composition will change over time – eventually changing the surface and atmosphere of K2-141b.
Rare glimpse of a melted world
“All rocky planets, including Earth, started out as melted worlds, but then cooled and solidified quickly. The lava planets give us a rare glimpse at this stage of planetary evolution, ”says Giang Nguyen’s Ph.D supervisor, Nicolas Cowan.
Next steps – Enter the Spitzer & James Webb space telescope
The next step will be to test whether these predictions are correct, say the scientists. The team now has data from Spitzer Space Telescope this should give them a first look at the exoplanet’s daytime and nighttime temperatures. Like James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in 2021, they will also be able to check if the atmosphere behaves as expected.
Source: “Modeling the planet’s atmosphere lava K2-141b: implications for low and high resolution spectroscopy” by T. Giang Nguyen, Nicolas Cowan, Agnibha Banerjee and John Moores is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The Daily Galaxy, Jake Burba, via McGill University
Image credit: K2-141b: Julie Roussy, McGill Graphic Design