Science fiction manages to amaze us every now and then. However, here is something that will put even science fiction to shame – an exoplanet that is covered with a layer of hot ice. Some call it the burning ice planet but actually there is no fire. It is just ice which is incredibly hot but never melts and vaporizes despite extremely high temperature. How the heck is that possible? Let us find out through this list of 20 interesting hot ice planet facts.
Interesting Hot Ice Planet Facts: 1-10
1. Cataloged as Gliese 436 b and sometimes referred to as GJ 436 b, this exoplanet is so named because it orbits a red dwarf star known as Gliese 436.
2. Geoffrey Marcy from University of California and R. Paul Butler from Carnegie Institute of Washington separately discovered this planet in August 2004.
3. This planet has almost the size of Neptune. It was first recorded transiting its star in 2005 but not much importance was paid.
4. In 2007 the planet was once again found transiting its star and this time scientists measured the exact radius of the planet along with its mass and found that it was almost the size of Neptune.
5. Compared to Uranus, the diameter of Gliese 436 b is 4000 kilometers larger.
6. The diameter of Gliese 436 b is 5000 kilometers larger than that of Neptune.
7. The exoplanet travels extremely close to its host star. It travels at a distance of 4,000,000 kilometers from its star. It is 15 times closer to Gliese 436 compared to average distance of Mercury from Sun.
8. Scientists have estimated that the average surface temperature of the planet is 439 degrees Celcius.
9. GJ 436 b is located in the Leo constellation at a distance of approximately 33.1 light years away from our Solar System.
10. The planet makes one complete revolution around its host star in 2 days and 15.5 hours (measured in Earth time).
Interesting Hot Ice Planet Facts: 11-20
11. With the planet’s given distance from its host star, it was very unlikely for the planet to have such a high surface temperature solely from radiations. Scientists say that the runaway gas causes a greenhouse effect which results in such high temperature.
12. Based on information collected about size and mass of Gliese 436 b during its transit, scientists came to the conclusion that the planet was mainly composed of water. This conclusion was drawn based on Jonathan Fortney’s models. Fortney works at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.
13. The most interesting statement about the planet was that it is covered with a layer of hot ice, which is one of the several exotic forms water can take under extremely high pressure. Scientists say that because of the extreme gravity and intense pressure inside, the water transformed into exotic ice.
14. Because of the immense gravity, the ice is prevented from being vaporized despite the temperature being more than 4 times higher than the boiling point of water.
15. This exotic form of ice is weird and is referred to as Ice X. This ice cannot be held in hands or put in mouth because it is so hot that it will burn and melt even the bones.
16. Even more perplexing is the fact that scientist say the planet was actually formed as a gas giant and was way far from the host star than its current position.
17. They propose that the planet actually traveled inwards and when it came close enough to the host star, the hydrogen layer was blown off by the process known as coronal mass ejection.
18. However, the measurement of the radius during the planet’s transit across its star, it was fond that ice alone was not enough to give the planet its radius. Scientists therefore proposed that a thin layer of helium and hydrogen covers the entire ice layer.
19. Scientists assume that helium and hydrogen gases form about 10% of the total mass of the exoplanet.
20. Spitzer Space Telescope studied the brightness temperature of the planet and found thermochemical disequilibrium in its atmosphere. Spitzer Space Telescope’s study suggested that carbon monoxide was far more abundant in Gliese 436 b’s daytime atmosphere whereas methane was scant. This is paradoxical because currently planetary models dictate high methane concentration and low CO concentration in atmospheres of planets with such high temperature.
Note that though some people call the Gliese 436 b as burning ice planet, the exotic ice is not really burning. It is just hot ice… extremely hot ice!