Earth may not feel like a great place to be this year, but thank your lucky stars you don't reside on exoplanet K2-141b. A massive rocky super-Earth orbiting extremely close to its orange dwarf sun, it takes just 6.7 hours to orbit its star. This proximity has created some unique conditions on this lava world, planets so close to their host star some regions may just be oceans of molten lava. Now, researchers have simulated what the atmosphere on this world may be like, and it's unlike anything we've ever seen in the Solar System.
“The study is the first to make predictions about weather conditions on K2-141b that can be detected from hundreds of light-years away with next-generation telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope,” Giang Nguyen from York University said in a statement.
K2-141b is thought to be covered by a magma ocean that could easily reach 100 kilometers (62 miles) deep. The simulations reported in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society suggest that this boiling ocean would act similarly to our own water ocean.
The planet is tidally locked, with its day-side constantly facing its star. With a temperature of about 2,730°C (4,940°F), the molten ocean would experience a cycle similar to the water cycle on Earth. Rocks and minerals wouldn't just melt, they'd evaporate, thus creating a thin atmosphere.
The tenous layer would extend beyond the day-side with supersonic winds blowing at about 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) per hour. These winds would bring the hot rocky air to the edges of the frigid night-side of the planet where, thanks to temperatures of around -200°C (-328°F), it cools down and rains back into the surface, finding its way back to the magma ocean over time. The team suggests that the ocean and rain are made of sodium, silicon monoxide, and silicon dioxide. It rains rocks.
“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 co-author Professor Nicolas Cowan from McGill University.
K2-141b, located 202 light-years from Earth. is much denser and slightly larger than our planet, with about twice the gravitational pull at ground level that we experience. Observations of the planet's atmosphere might confirm these predictions and provide more insight into these hellish molten worlds.