Oh, it gets worse. NASA/ESA/G. Bacon/STScI
Recently, we told you about an exoplanet that rains glass. Sideways. Which got us thinking: 1.) we will never complain about the weather here on Earth again and 2.) surely that’s got to be the worst place to live in the entire universe. But no! With the help of NASA and Kepler astronomers and a couple physicists, we found nine additional wildly inhospitable planets. Of course, you wouldn’t survive too well anywhere in the universe that isn’t Earth, but these places would be particularly awful–places with conditions “well-matched to Dante’s visions of hell,” as physicist Steve Tufte describes one of the planets. Check out the most miserable planets in the universe.
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Venus is very close to Earth in distance (between 24 and 162 million miles away) and in size (it’s about 95% of Earth’s size), and prior to the 20th century, scientists thought it could be home to life. In reality, as physicist Steve Tufte puts it, Venus has conditions “well-matched to Dante’s visions of hell.” The planet has more volcanoes than any other planet in our solar system and much of its surface is covered in lava. The surface pressure is equivalent to being more than half a mile underwater (which would about triple the deepest dive ever), and its temperature averages more than 730 K (hot enough to melt lead). On top of all that, the planet is surrounded by a thick cloud of sulfuric acid, which would really, really suck, and its atmosphere is 96 percent carbon dioxide. Conditions on Venus are hypothesized to be a direct result of a runaway greenhouse effect, in which the self-regulating carbon cycle spirals out of control. Billions of years ago, scientists believe, temperatures rose enough on Venus that water evaporated. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, and so as more water evaporated, the planet only got hotter. Once a certain threshold was broken, it became a “runaway effect,” where the self-regulating system fails. The result is the dreadful conditions for life we see on Venus today.
When it rains on COROT-7b, it rains rocks. ‘Nuff said? Well, it gets worse: COROT-7b, which is 489 light-years from Earth and about 1.5 times our size, is estimated to be around 2,800 K (that’s 4,580 degrees F); the exoplanet is so close to its star that its year lasts only 20 hours on Earth; and its surface is probably a welcoming mixture of volcanoes, lava, and rocks. Okay, ’nuff said.
This planet is about 750 light-years away, and is basically a demon planet. Not much is known about it aside from the fact that it’s the darkest exoplanet discovered to date: blacker than coal, it reflects less than 1 percent of light. Astronomers aren’t entirely sure what accounts for its darkness, but it could be that it lacks reflective clouds or has light-absorbing chemicals in its atmosphere. The fact that it’s so dark doesn’t mean it’s cold, though — in fact, what little light it does emit has a faint red glow like a hot electric stove, and its temperature is estimated to be around 1,255 K (1,800 degrees F).
WASP-12b, 1,100 light-years from Earth, is being slowly pulled apart by its star. In fact, it orbits so close that its tidal forces are pulling away its upper atmosphere at a rate of nearly 200 quadrillion tons each year, turning it into an egg-shaped ball of super-hot carbon. Planetary scientist James Lissauer suspects that deep below the turbulent shield, this Jupiter-sized planet might contain rocks made of graphite or even diamond.
Watching a sunset on this cold, Saturn-size gas giant 200 light-years away from our solar system, you might think you were seeing double. That’s because every 229 days, Kepler-16b orbits two stars. But this “Tatooine-like” planet is far less hospitable than its oasis-like relative of Star Wars fame. At -120 degrees F, it’s too cold to sustain life, but research done last year suggests that one of its moons–if it even has one–could be capable of maintaining an Earthlike atmosphere.
If you spent the night on Kepler-10b (560 light-years away), you’d wake up a year older. That’s because the 2,800-degree F planet orbits its star every 20 hours. This rocky super-Earth (so called because it’s about 1.4 times the size of our little blue marble and nearly five times as dense) is thought to have a surface of molten lava hot enough to melt iron.
CFBDSIR2149, discovered in late 2012 100 light-years away, is just a sad planet. Its story is even sadder than Pluto’s. First, its name: pure gobbledegook. But much worse is the fact that scientists believe it to be either a brown dwarf or a rogue planet. If it’s a brown dwarf, it means it was supposed to be a star, but failed: due to low mass, its core never got nuclear fusion going. If it’s a rogue or “orphan” planet, it means that it formed as a normal planet around a star, was somehow ejected from its orbit, and now roams the unforgiving universe. If that isn’t enough to make it a poor place to settle down, it’s estimated to be about 700 K, or about 800 degrees F. At least CFBDSIR2149 can claim to be the most literal planet. The word “planet” comes from the greek “planētēs,” which means wandering star.
Nicknamed the Styrofoam planet, this ball of hot hydrogen and helium is 1.5 times bigger than Jupiter but less than half of its mass. It also has an albedo of 0.38, meaning it reflects so much light that the NASA scientists who discovered it thought they might have made an error. “Since we began finding exoplanets, we’ve started to realize just how much diversity is out there,” said astrophysics research scientist Jean-Michel Désert. Kepler’s Michele Johnson described the planet’s blinding reflectivity and 2800-degree F average surface temperature as a “disco inferno.” But maybe you’re into that.
Living on Kepler-13b might be most like walking around inside a kiln, according to NASA planetary scientist James Lissauer, except for the fact that there’d be nothing to walk on. Like other “super-Jupiters,” as these large planets are known, Kepler-13b lacks a hard, contiguous surface. Instead, its layers are made up of hot, violently swirling layers of gas that bring its average temperature to 3,257 K (more than 5,000 degrees F), making it one of the hottest exoplanets ever discovered.
HD 189773b, 63 light-years away, looks nice and Earthlike. But it’s not. It’s about 1270 K on its surface and it rains glass. Sideways. The blue color is thought to come from silicate particles in the planet’s atmosphere, which scatter blue light. Because of the planet’s surface temperature, the particles could condense to form glass. These glass grains would then fly around in the planet’s 4,000-mph wind. Ouch. Now, let’s all just take a moment to relish Earth’s relatively moderate climate.