Recently Discovered Planets You Won't Believe Exist
Let's check out planets NASA discovered that defy all logic!Science
Our planet is pretty amazing. It’s the only one in over 5,000 discovered planets that we are sure has life. But, in this infinite, expanding universe, have you ever wondered if there was something better? It turns out there’s a candy world, a diamond world, and all manner of other unbelievable places out there! Let's take an intergalactic cruise around some newly discovered planets so unbelievable they seem to defy logic itself!
So, what makes a planet suitable for us to live on? Most importantly, it needs to support liquid water or we’d be shriveled up space raisins. Many planets orbit a star, ours is the sun, but a planet can only support liquid water if it’s a certain distance away from its star. Too close and any water will evaporate from the heat, too far and it’ll freeze!
The sweet spot in between these two extremes however is known as the habitable zone. Because stars vary massively in intensity, the distance of the habitable zone can differ wildly from system to system. One such planet that lands right in that sweet spot is K2 18b.
We can’t get close to these planets to take photos. Most, if not all visuals we have are artists' impressions from the data we’ve obtained. The exoplanet, meaning a planet orbiting a star outside our solar system, was discovered by NASA in 2015. Unbelievably, it’s more than twice the size of Earth and is the first planet we’ve found with water vapor in its atmosphere. That means K2 18b could support human life!
So, what are we waiting for? K2 18b orbits a star in the constellation Leo a staggering 124 lightyears away from Earth. Light travels 186,000 miles in a single second, and a lightyear is how far it travels in an entire year. So can you imagine how insanely far away 124 lightyears is? Astonishingly, it’s over 729 trillion miles.
Hypothetically, a one-way ticket to K2 18b onboard our fastest space shuttle, Discovery, which travels around five miles a second, is still going to take you an unbelievable four and a half million years.
Our earliest ancestors split from monkeys around 5 million years ago. So, it would take about as long for us to reach K2 18b as it’s taken a bunch of primates to master space travel. In theory, any humans that arrived would resemble us about as much as we humans resemble chimps.
Now you know how far away planets can be, you’re probably wondering how we find them in the first place. The most popular way is the Transit method, in which scientists select a specific cluster of stars to observe over a period of time. If one of the stars dims, it could mean an orbiting planet is passing over it.
The stars are trillions of miles away, so without a really high-end telescope, you’d never notice anything change. But the best telescopes can give us loads of data about a planet’s size, orbit, and even atmosphere! Even so, some planets are so far away we know very little about them.
Like Kepler 442-b. The planet was discovered in 2015, and at a literally astronomical 1,206 lightyears away, none of our telescopes are capable of getting a good view. What we do know, however, is astounding. Kepler 442-b is bigger than Earth and might even be better.
It’s in that habitable zone we mentioned above, so it could have liquid water but that’s not all. It’s also highly likely to be rocky, meaning it could look like Earth too. Here’s where it gets really special, though. Its sun is about 40% smaller than our own, which means it burns much slower.
So, while our sun is expected to last about 10 billion years, Kepler 442-b’s could last between 18 and 34 billion years. In other words, there’s a planet out there just like Earth, but with twice the longevity! The problem is, it’s so far away we can’t tell what makes up its atmosphere. And that’s a really big deal.
On the one hand, it could be like the Bahamas all year, every year. On the other hand, it could be minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and smell like rotten eggs. So, while it’s currently considered more habitable than Earth, that’s only on the few metrics we can actually measure. There’s so much we don’t know that could make Kepler 442-b an absolute hellhole.
Wasp 107b, the Cotton Candy World
In 2017, scientists discovered Wasp 107b, which they’ve nicknamed “the Candy Planet” because it has a similar density to cotton candy! Despite being as big as Jupiter, Wasp 107b is a tenth of its mass, making it super light for its size. In fact, over 85% of its total mass is gas!
This in and of itself isn’t too crazy until you realize Jupiter is almost entirely made of gas too. So, how is Candyland so much lighter? It has to do with its core. Jupiter has a solid core that’s 25 times the mass of Earth’s, meaning it generates a wild amount of gravitational force. The greater the mass of a planet, the greater its gravitational force. This force pulls gasses into Jupiter’s atmosphere, which makes up the majority of the planet.
Scientists used to think a planet’s core had to be at least 10 times the mass of Earth’s to be capable of this until they found Wasp 107b. Indeed, Wasp 107b’s core is just four times the mass of Earth’s! So, it should generate much less force than Jupiter and gather less gas; and yet, the two planets are the same size. So, how is this possible?
Scientists reckon the planet must’ve originally formed far away from its star, where temperatures are colder. In colder temperatures, gas accumulates faster, so gradually Wasp 107b became bigger and bigger despite the low mass of its core. Then at some point, a nearby planet interfered with its orbit, pulling it closer to its current star, where it is today. For now, though, this is only a theory.
This next planet has a huge appetite; Wasp 12b devours 94% of all light that enters its atmosphere. The planet, which was first discovered in 2008, is a “hot Jupiter”, a term for a giant, gaseous planet that orbits very close to its parent star. In fact, it orbits so close that the star’s gravitational force is warping the planet into an egg shape. The star is pulling the planet so intensely that it’s literally stretching out!
This close orbit also means Wasp 12b gets pretty toasty. Like, 4,700 degrees Fahrenheit toasty. Most hot Jupiter's reflect about 40 percent of light, but Wasp 12b is so hot that hydrogen molecules in its atmosphere are broken down into atomic hydrogen. This is the fuel that makes stars burn, causing Wasp 12b to have an atmosphere less akin to a planet and more like a small star.
Scientists believe this insane reaction is why practically no light reflects from the surface. While light doesn’t reflect though, the incredible heat on the planet’s surface does mean it emits an eerie molten red glow. But it doesn’t just look freaky, the heat is so intense that it’s boiling off the gaseous atmosphere of the planet, stripping it away to spill out into space.
As mentioned earlier in the article, habitable zones can be vastly different from one another. In 2007 scientists discovered a planet called Gliese 581c which has been deemed habitable despite being just 6.8 million miles from its nearest star!
That still seems pretty far, but it’s much closer than the 93 million miles we are from our sun! However, that’s not what makes it so interesting. Gliese 581c is tidally locked, meaning the planet doesn’t spin. One side always faces towards its star, while the other always faces away.
So, if you stood on the inward-facing side, the scorching heat would burn so hot you’d be melted in a matter of seconds! And the outer facing side is so cold, you’d be solid ice in no time. But right in the middle there’s a strip of land neither too hot nor too cold, and instead just right for life to potentially exist on.
The peculiar discovery got scientists wondering if anything of note could exist in that strip. For all we know, it could be harboring an entire civilization! So, back in 2008, they sent out a radio transmission but because Gliese 581c is 20 lightyears away, or 118 trillion miles, it’s not expected to arrive until 2029!
We all love our birthdays but waiting 365 days for more presents feels so unfair! But if we lived on Toi 849b, an exoplanet discovered in 2020, we’d have a much shorter wait! It completes a full orbit of its host star, which takes one year on Earth, in as little as 18 hours.
But a year this short isn’t exactly cake all around. It can only complete this orbit because it’s incredibly close to its parent star. So close that its surface temperatures reach a sweltering 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit!
And the heat isn’t the only pitfall; this place is humongous! At over 3 times the size of Earth, the gravity from such a large planet like this should draw in an abundance of gas. But the sun is so close that its intense radiation has stripped all of it away, leaving Toi 849b with practically no atmosphere. All that’s left is one big, rocky, hellish core. So, technically, it’s the biggest rocky planet we’ve ever discovered.
Koi 5 System
In our solar system, all the planets orbit around one star the sun. But that’s not true for all the planets in our galaxy. Over a whopping 1,800 light years away is the Koi 5 system. It’s composed of not one, not two, but three stars all orbiting each other!
It’s like this: 5A and 5B both orbit each other every 29 years, and 5C is bound to both A and B in a much larger orbit of every 400 years. As if this bowl of stellar spaghetti wasn’t confusing enough, an exoplanet about half the size of Saturn called Koi 5Ab was confirmed in 2021 and it orbits star 5A every 5 days. A
All this does mean, however, that if you stood on Koi 5Ab and looked up, you’d see three suns in the sky! And that’s not all; Koi 5Ab also has an irregular orbit. Planets form from big clouds of swirling dust that collide and stick together over time. These clouds are gathered by the gravity of a star.
As they swirl round and round, they form an orbit around the star, which you’d expect the fully formed planet to continue on. But Koi 5Ab did change, it’s skewed inwards about 50 degrees! Scientists think at some point during the planet’s formation, the gravitational force around Koi 5B kicked 5Ab off its natural orbit around Koi 5A and sent it on its inward spiral.
Kepler 37b was found in 2013, and it’s the smallest planet ever discovered! It’s about a third as large as Earth or roughly the same size as the moon. So, what would life be like on the smallest planet in the known universe?
Scientists believe it’s solid and rocky, so you could stand on it. But the lack of atmosphere combined with surface temperatures that reach a flesh frying 800 degrees Fahrenheit. But maybe there are loads more tiny planets out there we haven’t found yet that are far more habitable, they’re just harder to spot than the big ones!
J1407b, the Super Saturn
One of the biggest space mysteries is Saturn’s rings. What’s going on there? Saturn has an incredibly powerful gravitational pull, strong enough to rip up comets and asteroids before they can reach the planet. Eventually, the particles and dust created from all this destruction came to circle around Saturn, held by its gravity in the form of individual rings.
Why doesn’t Earth have rings too? Scientists believe once upon a time it might’ve done, but over millions of years, they fused together to create the moon! In fact, at the time this article was written, we’ve only found one planet outside our solar system that has rings like Saturn.
Discovered in 2012, the catchily named J1407b, a planet in the Centaurus constellation some 434 lightyears away, makes Saturn’s rings look like a bowl of Cheerios. At a jaw-dropping 56 million miles wide, they’re 640 times bigger than Saturn’s.
That means if J1407b swapped places with Saturn, we wouldn’t just be able to see the rings from Earth, they’d take up the entire sky! But J14 probably won’t have these rings forever. It’s a spritely 16 million years old very young for a planet. So, over time the rings will probably morph into moons rather than sticking around long term like Saturn’s have.
You might’ve noticed that a lot of these planets tend to be on the warmer side. That’s because the Transit method, or the way of finding planets, has the most success with ones that orbit close to their sun. Those that don’t are less likely to pass between the star we’re observing and our observation point.
But in 2004, scientists discovered a frozen planet just 33 lightyears away in the constellation Leo called Gliese 436-b. This isn’t just any old frozen ice sphere though. Scientists were flabbergasted to find it harbors smoldering surface temperatures of 822 degrees Fahrenheit! Ice melts if it’s any warmer than a measly 32 degrees Fahrenheit, so what’s going on?
While that may be true for Earth and our atmosphere, different planets play by different rules. It turns out, Gliese 436b’s atmosphere exerts extreme pressure down on the planet. This causes liquid water to compress into something similar to ice, only much denser. So dense in fact that it transforms into a heat-resistant state we didn’t even realize was possible!
55 Cancri E, the Diamond Planet
We all know how coveted and expensive diamonds are. But did you know that back in 2004, scientists discovered a planet just 40 lightyears away called 55 Cancri e that they originally thought could be made of the precious gemstones?
It was originally believed that 55 Cancri, the star the diamond planet orbits, contains large quantities of carbon. Therefore, it’s probable that 55 Cancri e was formed from the same swirling space dust as its star, meaning it also has a lot of carbon.
On Earth, carbon atoms that are put under high heat and pressure bond together and crystallize into diamonds. 55 Cancri e is subjected to just such high pressures and temperatures because it’s in super close proximity to its host star. So, it was theorized that these conditions would cause diamonds to form across the planet’s surface.
In 2013 however, further tests were done that revealed miscalculations in the diamond planet proposal. It turns out, the host star’s carbon levels aren’t actually as high as we first thought. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the same for the planet itself, but our evidence is now shaky at best.
In 2008, scientists discovered a new planet in the Cygnus constellation they’ve named Hat-P- 7b. It’s tidally locked and orbits incredibly close to its star, resulting in one of the strangest atmospheres ever seen.
The side facing towards its star is red hot, but the outer side is cool enough that clouds of corundum form there. Corundum is a mineral that crystalizes into rubies and sapphires. On Earth, temperatures never get hot enough for it to vaporize and form clouds, but on Hat-P-7b they sure do.
The corundum heats up and vaporizes on the hot side, then strong winds blow it over to the cooler side, where it condenses to form clouds, which could then rain down upon the surface. If you’re interested in seeing this totally unique shower though, you’ll need more than a steel umbrella.
It has the first weather system we’ve been able to detect outside our own solar system, and those powerful winds aren’t to be underestimated. Unless you’re planning on getting slapped across the face by a sapphire anytime soon, I’d say health is wealth and leave this one alone.
Practically every star in the 100 billion stars in the Milky Way is believed to have at least one planet orbiting it. But some host star-to-planet relationships have surprising consequences. Take PSR J1719-1438b as an example.
The planet was first discovered in 2011 and it orbits something called a pulsar. In basic terms, these are incredibly dense and compact stars. Despite being only 11 miles wide, about the size of Washington DC, a single teaspoon of matter from the pulsar orbiting PSR J1719-1438b would weigh a billion tons on Earth.
And its crazy mass means the pulsar exerts a tremendous amount of gravitational force on its planet. It’s a whopping 4,000 lightyears away though. So you’d imagine something so tiny would be impossible to see from Earth but that’s the really cool thing about pulsars. Their magnetic field can be over a trillion times stronger than ours on Earth, which makes them spin super fast and emit beams of light from their magnetic poles.
But because the poles don’t align with the rotational axis, the light wobbles, causing it to sweep across our line of sight at regular intervals. By timing these intervals, we’ve figured out that 1438b’s pulsar spins roughly 10,000 times a minute.
So, what does that mean for PSR J1719-1438b? Well, the extensive force exerted on it by the pulsar means it orbits so close to it that the entire system would fit inside the diameter of the sun. Indeed, it takes just over 2 hours for it to complete a single revolution!
And that’s not all just like its pulsar, PSR J1719-1438b is also incredibly dense. It’s roughly the same mass as Jupiter, but only about 40% of the size! This has led scientists to guess that once upon a time 1438b might’ve been a star itself.
However, the powerful gravity from the pulsar stripped its outer layers of hydrogen and helium and crystalized the remaining carbon, making it super dense. This means PSR J1719-1438b could be a giant dead star 3,000 times bigger than the star it orbits.
Our own climate on Earth can be pretty crazy. We get hurricanes, hailstones, and all kinds of other meteorological horrors. But you probably never heard of a planet with weather quite like HD189773b.
Discovered in 2005, the gassy planet has a peculiar atmosphere with a high density of silicate particles, a mix of silicon and oxygen that makes the whole place a bright azure color. But like all beautiful things, get too close and it’ll hurt you.
Temperatures reach blistering highs of over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, turning the silicate into glass which then rains down onto the planet’s surface. Wind speeds can reach up to 5,400 miles per hour, which whips the glass around the planet at seven times the speed of sound.
That means if this storm happened on Earth, a single shard would fly around the entire equator in just five and a half hours. So, if you were unlucky enough to get stranded on HD 189773b you’d look like Swiss cheese in about 2 minutes.
I hope you were amazed at these newly discovered planets so unbelievable they seem to defy logic itself! Thanks for reading.