Astronomers have predicted the weather on one of the friendliest alien planets ever discovered, with hail and sea of lava 60 miles deep.
The world, named K2-141b, was found about 200 light-years from Earth and has winds of more than 3,000 miles per hour and surface temperatures above 5,000F.
Researchers from McGill and York Universities, were the first to predict the weather on a rocky planet that was first spotted by the Kepler Space Telescope in 2018.
The world is tightly locked, which means that one side is always facing its host star, with endless daylight leading to temperatures hot enough to evaporate the rock.
The other side, facing the star, is a freezing -328F, cold enough to freeze nitrogen ̵1; a big difference that produces a gust of 3,000 miles an hour.
In the heart of the vastly illuminated area that these artists were impressed with K2-141b there was a sea of molten rock covered by a slightly rocky atmosphere.
Graphical rendering of exoplanet K2-141b. Researchers predict it covered in a vast ocean of magma stretching from night to day of the tightly locked world.
K2-141b is a ‘super Earth’, a type of planet that is not in the solar system. It is five times the size of our world, but only takes 0.3 days to orbit its star.
It orbits it just 665,000 miles from its orange dwarf host, compared with Mercury averaging 36 million miles from Sun.
Lead author, graduate student Giang Nguyen, said the hot and fiery world has surfaces, oceans and atmosphere all made up of rock – from molten lava to falling rock.
Nguyen and his colleagues have created a series of computer simulations to predict what the weather will look like on this extreme example of an ‘Earth-like’ planet.
The researchers explain that this exoplanet belongs to a small group of rocky planets orbiting very close to their star, the researchers further explained that extreme conditions can alter the surface.
The proximity to this star keeps the planet gravitationally locked with the same side always facing it – ultimately creating a thin atmosphere in some areas.
Co-author, Professor Nicolas Cowan, of McGill University, Montreal, said: ‘Our discovery may mean the atmosphere extends a little off the magma coast, making it easier to spot with glass space astronomy. ‘
The evaporating atmosphere mimics the Earth – only with rocks instead of water – with the extremely high temperatures that make them experience rainfall as if they were water particles.
Just like the water cycle on Earth, where it evaporates, rises into the atmosphere, condenses and falls back as rain, sodium, silicon monoxide and silicon dioxide on K2-141b too – it hails in a way. effective.
On Earth, rain flows back into the oceans, where it once again evaporates and the water cycle repeats – in a steady cycle.
On K2-141b, mineral vapor formed by evaporated rock is swept by ultrasonic winds on a cold night and ‘hail’ rocks back into the magma ocean.
The resulting currents flow back to the hot day side of the exoplanet, where the rock evaporates again.
The planet orbits its host star every 0.3 days – about every seven hours – with one side always facing the orange dwarf.
Future telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch next year, should be able to confirm whether the predictions are correct.
Scientists said that the cycle on K2-141b is not as stable as the one on Earth because the return flow of the magma ocean towards the daytime is very slow.
As a result, they predict that the mineral composition will change over time – ultimately changing the surface and atmosphere of K2-141b.
‘All rocky planets, including Earth, started out as a molten world, but then quickly cooled down and solidified,’ Cowan said. The lava planets give us a rare glimpse into this planetary evolutionary phase. ”
The next step will be to test whether these predictions are correct, scientists say.
The team now has data from the Spitzer Space Telescope that will give them their first glimpse of the day and night temperatures of the exoplanet.
With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021, they will also be able to verify if the atmosphere is working as predicted.
“Next generation space telescopes like James Webb will be able to detect it from hundreds of light years away,” Nguyen added.
The finding has been published in the Royal Society of Astronomical Society’s Monthly Notices.
Scientists study the atmospheres of distant planets using space giant satellites like Hubble.
The distant stars and the planets orbiting them often have conditions unlike anything we see in our atmosphere.
To understand this new world and what they are made of, scientists need to be able to detect what their atmosphere consists of.
They typically do this using a telescope similar to Nasa’s Hubble Telescope.
These giant satellites scan the sky and lock in alien planets that Nasa thinks may be of interest.
Here, on-board sensors perform different types of analysis.
One of the most important and useful is the absorption spectrum.
This type of analysis measures the light emitted from a planet’s atmosphere.
Each gas absorbs a slightly different wavelength of light, and when this happens, a black line will appear on a complete spectrum.
These lines correspond to a very specific molecule, indicating that it is present on the planet.
They are often referred to as the Fraunhofer lines after German astronomers and physicists first discovered them in 1814.
By combining all the different wavelengths of light, scientists can identify all the chemicals that make up a planet’s atmosphere.
What’s key is what’s missing, providing clues to find out what is there.
It is critically important that this must be done by space telescopes, as Earth’s atmosphere will then interfere.
Absorption from chemicals in our atmosphere will skew the sample, which is why it is important to study light before it has a chance to reach Earth.
This is often used to look for helium, sodium and even oxygen in aliens’ atmospheres.
This diagram shows how the light traveling from a star and through the atmosphere of an alien planet produces Fraunhofer lines that show the presence of key compounds like sodium or helium.