Scientists Discover a Planet Where It Rains Rocks and Oceans Are Made of Lava

Artist Impression of K2-141b Exoplanet

Photo: Julie Roussy, McGill Graphic Design, and Getty Images

An alternate Earth that rains rocks and has oceans filled with lava may seem like something from a science fiction film, but it's actually a reality. In 2018, astronomers discovered the K2-141b exoplanet, and scientists have just published a study showing some of its extreme conditions.

While K2-141b is the size of Earth, it couldn't be any more different. This exoplanet is considered a lava planet due to its proximity to an orange dwarf star. All lava planets are so hot that some regions are likely to have lava oceans. But what makes K2-141b so unusual are the other weather conditions that researchers from McGill University, York University, and the Indian Institute of Science Education have discovered.

As an exoplanet with a surface, ocean, and atmosphere all made of rocks, one can only imagine the weather. By using computer simulations, the researchers came to some interesting conclusions. It appears that two-thirds of the planet faces constant daylight, which is owed to the fact that it's gravitationally locked in place thanks to its proximity to the dwarf star.

In a show of extreme contrast, the night side has temperatures of -200°C (-328°F), while the day side is a shocking 3000°C. That's hot enough to not only melt rocks, but to vaporize them. In fact, it's this thin layer of vapor that forms the atmosphere.

This vapor then turns into precipitation, just like the water cycle we find on Earth. On K2-141b, the rock vapor is swept by high winds over to the night side of the planet. It then rains into the lava oceans before the current brings it back to the scorching day side. At that point, it then vaporizes and the cycle starts all over again. Slowly, over time, this cycle will change the shape of the planet.

“All rocky planets­, including Earth, started off as molten worlds but then rapidly cooled and solidified. Lava planets give us a rare glimpse at this stage of planetary evolution,” says Professor Nicolas Cowan of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

The team is now working to validate its predictions by using data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, which should give information about the temperatures on both sides of the planet. Once the  James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2021, they should be able to verify their predictions about K2-141b's atmospheric cycle.

h/t: [CBS News]

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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