10 Weirdest Planets Discovered
We live in a very exciting time, never in all human history have so many planets outside of our own solar system (exoplanets) been able to be discovered. In 2014 alone NASA discovered over 40% of all previously known exoplanets in a single month, this has been mainly due to the newly developed Kepler Space Telescope. This orbiting space observatory is allowing us to see further and better than ever before into what lurks in our celestial back garden – And the finds that came back didn’t disappoint.
10. TrES-2b | “The Black Giant”
This dark menacing planet is situated 750 light years away from our solar system, and as far as we know it is officially the darkest planet in our known universe. The reason why it is so dark is not fully explained, but the light absorbing gases on this ominous gas giant can absorb as much as 99% of all light that hits it. What’s even more eerie is the fact that it glows red, as if it were a lit shard of coal shrouded by smoke. Due to the proximity to its closest star, the surface of this planet reaches as high as 1,100 ºC, making it, what is known as, a “Hot Jupiter” or epistellar Jovians.
9. 55 Cancri e | “The Jewel”
Just like a diamond, this planet is anything but dark – on the contrary it sparkles. Located 40 light years away, this world is about twice the size of earth and composed of mainly carbon. Due to how dense this planet is and how close it lies to its parent star, they believe that at least a 1/3 of all the carbon that makes up this planet would be under enough pressure and heat to be in diamond form.
But as with all new discoveries, some anomalies still lie unexplained. The readings initially pointed it towards a water planet, but it soon became apparent that this couldn’t be the case, as no hydrogen was detected – so the readings of carbon, may actually be the readings for carbon dioxide, which could make it a gas giant.
8. Gliese 436 b | “Burning Ice”
This is one of the weirder planets that we’ve seen in our night sky. This planets surface temperature clocks in at a toasty 439 ºC, but is predominantly made of ice. How can these be? – Well, due to its sheer mass the water is pulled towards the planets rocky core, meaning it can never get the chance to evaporate and escape the planets atmosphere. This results in ice that is quite literally burning.
But in June 2015, initial readings started to show that the planets atmosphere is evaporating forming a huge cloud around the planet, and the radiation from its host star is stripping a huge trailing tail of these gases, which stretches 14,000,000 km behind the planet.
7. HD 189773b | “The Glass Planet”
Situated 63 light years away, this planet is probably the worst one you’d want to find yourself on. Famous for its beautiful blue colour, it was the first exoplanet discovered with its actual colour being defined. Unlike our home, the blue doesn’t come from a peaceful world with temperate oceans, but rather most likely silicate particles in the atmosphere. This planet is actually raining glass – and add the 4000 km winds and storms that devour the whole of its surface, what you’re left with is a world very alien to what we would define as a “blue planet”.
6. wasp-12b | “The Egg”
This planet has the same mass as Jupiter, but due to its close proximity to its star, the planet has ballooned up under the intense heat. But that’s not the worse thing going for WASP-12b, the poor planet is being sucked up by its parent star and losing a terrifying 6 billion tonnes of mass per second. So quickly in fact, that it has lost its stereotypical planetary shape, and taken the form of an egg-like sphere.
It has been known for stars to be able to consume their orbiting children, but this has been the first time an event like this has been captured so clearly, and at the current rate this doomed planet only has about 10 million years left.
5. Gliese 581 c | “Life?”
This planet is very special, and has been voted in the top 3 planets that may contain life. However, this planet is totally different to our earth. Orbiting a red dwarf star the planet is tidal locked, which means it acts very much like our moon does when orbiting the earth, with one face always fixed towards the object it is orbiting. As you can imagine this give an extremely polar opposite climate on the different sides of this planet, with one side completely scorched and the other frozen solid.
But the findings show there might be a small slither of hope where the two climates intersect in the “twilight zone”, that might just be about suitable for extremophiles to thrive and be shaded from the intense heat of the red dwarf, and also sheltered from the barren cold of the outward facing openness of space. In 2008 we send a message from earth to Gliese 581 c in the hopes it won’t fall on deaf ears – it’s expected to reach the planet in 2029.
4. Wasp-17b | “The Colossus”
Found in the Scorpios constellation, this weighs in at an astounding 1.9x larger than our own Jupiter. What makes this planet so peculiar is that it is so gigantic it shouldn’t even exist, and breaks the laws of how large a planet should actually get. For it’s size it also has barely any mass, nearly half the mass you’d expect for its size, and for this reason it has been classed as a puffy planet.
What’s even stranger is the planet has a retrograde orbit, meaning it circles the parent star in the opposite direction of its spin. We do have a few planets in our solar system like, Venus and Uranus, that have a retrograde rotation, where the plant spins in the opposite direction to The Sun’s spin, but none that travel in the opposite direction – all this points to WASP-17b having had a very unorthodox upbringing.
3. HD 188753 Ab | “Tatooine”
This planet coincides in one of the most sparse and yet complicated solar systems. Made up of three Stars, HD 188753 Ab orbits its host star in addition to a binary orbit of two stars that also orbit the same host star. If you were to stand on the surface of this planet you would see three stars sunset and sunrise after one another, with constant eclipses as each star passes each other blocking one another out of view.
And for this reason it has been nicknamed the “Tatooine” triple star system… but I’m pretty sure the Star Wars version Luke Skywalker was raised, only has two stars. It could be worse and follow Asimov’s short novel “Nightfall” that tells the tale of a six star system.
2. GJ 1214b | “Waterworld”
47 light years from earth resides one planet that many scientists had thought to be impossible. Nicknamed “waterworld”, this planet is completely covered in a single ocean and stretches for as many miles long as it does deep.
If you were to swim down to the very bottom, eventually you would reach the planets core. Completely made of ice, the core is not your standard ice we know from our world. Known as Ice VII, it is produced when water it put under huge amounts of pressure, and has a melting point well passed 0 ºC.
1. Kepler 438b | “World 2.0”
Reaching out a staggering 470 light years away this planet is by far the most interesting planet yet to be discovered, not because it is spectacular and absurdly wonderful, but because it looks just like what we know to love and trust – Earth. Found orbiting a red dwarf, this planet is similar in size and also just as rocky as earth. And just like our home, this planet lies smack bang in the middle of the “goldilocks zone” – Not too hot and yet not too cold, this planet would be able to support not only liquid water, but also the red dwarf that is the powerhouse of its solar system, would be more than ample to make sure life had a sun-kissed existence.
This is the most earth-like planet found to date. Unfortunately, it’s by far the most furthest away on the list of exoplanets that have been discovered, but I’m sure if we keep looking and with a bit of luck we may find one a bit closer.