While scientists were studying exoplanet GJ 436b and its red dwarf star, they came across something they didn’t expect— a second planet around the star that appears to be covered in liquid hot magma. It’s like the stage 4 end of every level in Super Mario.
A paper announcing the discovery of UCF-1.01 using data from the Spitzer space telescope has been accepted by The Astrophysical Journal, and has University of Central Florida’s Kevin Stevenson as lead author. The planet was spotted by watching for fluctuations in the light from its star as UCF-1.01 passed between Earth and the red-dwarf.
The planet is about two-thirds the size of Earth, or about 5,200 miles in diameter, making it one of only a very few exoplanets believed to be smaller than our own world. It’s about 33 light-years away from us, closer than any other exoplanet smaller than Earth. However, UCF-1.01 is no paradise: It’s so close to its star that a year lasts only 1.4 Earth days and the surface temperature is around 1,000º F. Hence the magma.
NASA’s press release goes on to describe the brutal conditions of the planet:
If the roasted, diminutive planet candidate ever had an atmosphere, it almost surely has evaporated. UCF-1.01 might therefore resemble a cratered, mostly geologically dead world like Mercury. Paper co-author Joseph Harrington, also of the University of Central Florida and principal investigator of the research, suggested another possibility; that the extreme heat of orbiting so close to GJ 436 has melted the exoplanet’s surface.
“The planet could even be covered in magma,” Harrington said.
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