Hellscape lava planet rains rocks, suffers from supersonic winds – CNET

Exoplanet K2-141b lives in a close orbit to its star, making it a wild and inhospitable place.

Julie Roussy/Getty Images

If you ever need to feel more grateful for Earth, then just take a moment to contemplate some of the truly horrifying exoplanets that lurk outside our own solar system. Take, for example, K2-141b, a nightmare "lava planet" where it rains rock.

A team of researchers led by York University doctoral student Tue Giang Nguyen ran computer simulations to predict the conditions and weather on the extreme planet. K2-141b has the misfortune of being located close to its host star. It's also oriented so that two-thirds of the planet is locked into blazing-hot perpetual light while the dark side remains frigid.

The scientists published a study on K2-141b in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The exoplanet could host a magma ocean reaching 62 miles (100 kilometers) deep, while its surface is buffeted by supersonic winds of over 3,100 miles per hour (5,000 kilometers per hour).

"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," said planetary scientist Nicolas Cowan in a McGill University statement on Tuesday. 

The computer simulations suggest K2-141b is raining rocks. "On K2-141b, the mineral vapor formed by evaporated rock is swept to the frigid night side by supersonic winds and rocks 'rain' back down into a magma ocean," the university said.

The researchers hope next-generation telescopes like NASA's much-delayed James Webb Space Telescope will be able to take a closer look at the exoplanet and tell us if the computer simulations are accurate. 

Even if K2-141b is only half as hellish as they think, it's enough to make you want to hug the Earth and never let go.

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