Distant planet has magma oceans and it rains rocks, says study

CBC Kids News • Published 2020-11-16 06:00

New research suggests extreme weather on lava planet

If you want to visit Planet K2-141b, you’ll probably want to bring an umbrella.

And also say your goodbyes.

That’s because scientists predict that the far-off planet may have massive magma oceans, 5,000-kilometre winds and rain made of rocks.

It's according to a new study by scientists from McGill and York universities as well as the Indian Institute of Science Education.

Spotting the hellscape

Like most planets, K2-141b was spotted with the transit method, whereby a telescope is pointed at a star and a planet is seen as it orbits across the star, blocking some of the star’s light.

Artist's depiction shows the Kepler space telescope gliding through space

K2-141b was discovered by the Kepler space telescope back in 2018. (Image credit: NASA)

The planet was discovered in 2018 and is about 200 light years away, which would take millions of years to get to with our fastest spaceships.

Hot, fiery and also freezing

K2-141b is a lava planet, a type of planet that orbits so close to its host star that its rocks are constantly melting into magma oceans.

Using computer simulations, scientists in the study predict that K2-141 always faces its host star, creating constant daylight with temperatures above 3,000 degrees C.

The other third of the planet faces endless darkness, with temperatures of –200 degrees C.

The heat on the daylight side is so hot that it melts and vapourizes rocks, creating a thin atmosphere of rock in some areas of the planet.

That rock vapour undergoes precipitation just like rain here on Earth, evaporating into the atmosphere, condensing and then falling back down as rock rain into magma oceans. 

Ouch. Maybe an umbrella won’t do the trick after all.

Scientists say that the next step of the study is to verify their predictions using new data from the Spitzer Space Telescope and future data from the James Webb Space Telescope, which is set to be launched into space in 2021


TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Julie Roussy/McGill/Getty Images

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