Astronomers discover hellscape planet that rains rocks, has lava seas


Researchers found that the recently discovered “Hell Planet” has some of the most “extreme” conditions in the universe, with rocks raining down and lava seas 60 miles deep.

The world, called K2-141b, was found about 200 light years from Earth and has winds of more than 3,000 miles per hour and surface temperatures over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers from McGill University and York have predicted the weather on the rocky planet, which was first discovered by the Kepler space telescope in 2018.

The planet is gradually closed off, which means that one side always faces its host star, with endless daylight producing temperatures high enough to vaporize the rocks.

The other side, far from the star, freezes at -328 degrees Fahrenheit, and is cool enough to freeze nitrogen – the vast difference creating strong winds of 3,000 miles per hour.

K2-141b is a “super-Earth,” a class of planets not found in the Solar System. It is about five times the size of our world, but it takes just 0.3 days to orbit its star.

Lead author Jiang Nguyen, PhD student, said the fiery hot world has a surface, ocean and atmosphere made of rocks – from molten lava to falling stones.

Nguyen and his colleagues devised a series of computer simulations to predict what the weather would be like in this extreme example of a “Earth-like” planet.

The researchers explained that it is an exoplanet that belongs to a subgroup of rocky planets, which orbit near their star, adding that extreme conditions may change the surface.

“It is possible that our discovery means that the atmosphere extends a little beyond the shore of the magma ocean, making it easier to discover with space telescopes,” said co-author Professor Nicholas Cowan of McGill University in Montreal.

At K2-141b, the mineral vapor formed from evaporating rocks is washed away to the nocturnal side by supersonic winds and the rocky “rain” back to the ocean of magma.

The resulting currents flow back to the hot day side of an exoplanet, as the rocks evaporate again.

However, the cycle on K2-141b is not as stable as that on Earth, say the scientists.

As a result, they predict that the mineral composition will change over time – ultimately changing the surface and atmosphere of K2-141b.

The scientists say the next step will be a test if these predictions are correct.

The team now has data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, which should give them a 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 behaving according to their expectations.

The results have been published in the Journal of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.