Following last week’s blog on the planets of Dune, it’s time to look at some unusual real-life planets.
Earth is pretty unusual because it’s the only planet that sustains life, as far as we know. Hence the obsession of astronomers with finding an earth-like planet. Last year, the boffins got excited by the discovery of Alpha Centauri Bb. At least in terms of mass, it’s by far the most similar planet to our own. There’s just one problem. With an average surface temperature of 1,500 degrees centigrade, it’s unlikely that any prospective space tourists will be signing up soon to visit it.
CFBDSIR2149 was also discovered last year. Seven times larger than Jupiter, this planet is unique in that it does not orbit a star. Rather it is a planet that seemingly drifts alone through the universe.
Clearly, 2012 was a bumper year for new planet discoveries, if not for catchy planet names. Still, we can’t criticize modern astronomers too much in that regard. “Uranus” was originally known as “the Georgian Planet” after King George III, Britain’s reigning monarch at the time of its discovery. Such pathetic brown-nosing didn’t last long, however, and it was soon given a proper name after a God, like all the rest.
The world of planets is full of strange paradoxes, for example, the biggest planets often have the least density. The largest planet known to us is WASP-17b, which is twice the size of Jupiter. It is so light that it would float in water, assuming that you had enough lying around. Just to mount oddities on oddities, WASP 17b orbits in the opposite direction to its sun, another extremely rare occurrence.
Arthur C. Clarke once famously said “How inappropriate to call this planet earth when it is quite clearly Ocean”. Along with rats, termites and snails, we human beings cling to the few bits of rock that poke out of the water on our humble world. On other planets, even that wouldn’t be possible.
GJ 1214b is a complete water world, but that wouldn’t be the only problem for human colonizers. According to an article in The Week, it’s so hot with such a dense atmosphere that there would also be lumps of hot ice bouncing around on the surface:
Our last call on this whistle-stop tour of odd planets is little Haumea, a ‘dwarf planet’. Lurking in the outer darkness of the Kuiper belt, it would be unremarkable except for one thing. Whereas almost all other celestial bodies are a rounded ellipsis, Haumea has a different shape entirely. The experts call it an ellipsoid, but to me, it looks just like an egg. It makes you wonder what other planet shapes are out there, as yet lying beyond our ken. Could there be a conical planet, a flat planet, one with a hole in the middle like a doughnut? Alas, for now, only time will tell.