Bizarre Alien Planets Made Of Exotic Hot Ice

9 April, 2012 - The Universe is full of many strange and incredible things.

Recently astronomers announced they discovered that warp-speed planets can actually zoom through space at a few percent of the speed of light, up to 30 million miles per hour! Space is indeed full of wonders and there are alien worlds that stretches our imagination.

Just imagine a planet where ice is actually hot! It's fantastic, isn't it?

Astronomers are now discovering more and more so-called "waterworld," which might be covered in broiling-hot ice!

Located about 30 light years from Earth, there is a planet which orbits a small star, GJ 436. On this planet we find exotic form of water.

Some years ago, a team led by Michael Gillon of Geneva University in Switzerland observed the planet transiting its host star using a telescope at the Observatoire Francois-Xavier Bagnoud (OFXB) in Saint-Luc, Switzerland.

The astronomers were able to measure the planet's width, which provides clues to its composition and structure. It turns out to be about 50,000 kilometres wide, roughly four times the width of Earth and about the size of Neptune.

Based on various calculations, the researchers realized that the planet is too compact to be made mostly of hydrogen gas, like Jupiter, but not compact enough to be a rocky 'super Earth', as some had speculated. Instead, they believe it must be made mostly of an exotic form of water

What is exotic form of water?

"Water has more than a dozen solid states, only one of which is our familiar ice," says team member Frederic Pont of Geneva University. "Under very high pressure, water turns into other solid states denser than both ice and liquid water, just as carbon transforms into diamond under extreme pressures."

Although the parent star is much cooler than the Sun, the planet orbits 13 times closer to the star than Mercury's orbit around the Sun.

That means the surface must be a blazing hot 300 C or more, keeping water in its atmosphere in vapour form.

But the high pressures in the planet's interior would compress the water so much that it would stay solid even at hundreds of degrees Celsius - the expected temperatures inside the planet.

There are a variety of exotic 'hot ice' states possible in such conditions, with names like 'Ice VII' and 'Ice X'.

Because the planet is so closed to its star, water would not have condensed to form the GJ 436 planet.

It must have formed farther out and migrated inwards.

Other similar planets out there could have stabilised at the right distance from the star to become "ocean planets," Frederic Pont explained.

Life as we know it would not exist on an alien planet where ice is hot, but the planet's environment could be more exotic than we can imagine.

Astronomers will most likely find many more similar exotic ocean worlds.

"To me, it proves that there are many planets with liquid water, because if there's one like this, it could have been a bit further from the star and then the temperature would have been right," Frederic Pont said.

Another similar planet is dubbed GJ1214b. The planet is located in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, and just 40 light-years from Earth.

GJ1214b, shown in this artist's conception, is a super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. New observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show that it is a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. GJ1214b therefore represents a new type of world, like nothing seen in our solar system or any other planetary system currently known. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Astronomers will most likely find many more similar exotic ocean worlds. "To me, it proves that there are many planets with liquid water, because if there's one like this, it could have been a bit further from the star and then the temperature would have been right," Frederic Pont said.

Another similar planet is dubbed GJ1214b. The planet is located in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, and just 40 light-years from Earth.

Our solar system contains three types of planets: rocky, terrestrial worlds (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn), and ice giants (Uranus and Neptune). Planets orbiting distant stars come in an even wider variety, including lava worlds and "hot Jupiters."

GJ1214b is different. It represents a brand new classification of planet: a veritable world of H2O, encased within a thick atmosphere of water vapor.

The internal structure of GJ1214b would be very different than our world.

"GJ1214b is like no planet we know of," explained astronomer Zachory Berta, who led the team that revealed the exoplanet's secret. "A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water."

"Based on our observations, this atmosphere would likely consist of more than 50% water by mass," write the researchers in the paper describing their findings.

GJ1214b's density is close to just 1.9 grams per cubic centimeter. Water has a density of 1 g/cm3. The fact that Earth's average density is 5.5 g/cm3 suggests that GJ1214b is harboring a lot more water than Earth and much less rock.

But despite its hydrous nature, GJ1214b would still be inhospitable to human life, due primarily to the fact that its proximity to its sun gives it an estimated surface temperature in excess of 230 degrees Celsius.

"The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like 'hot ice' or 'superfluid water.'" explained Berta, "substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience."

What more exotic alien worlds are out there? Only time can tell.


See also:
Puzzling Phenomenon: "Planet Pile-Ups" And "Planet Deserts"

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