Friday, September 15, 2017

Weird Planets 3

GJ 1214b is another exoplanet that I found on 3 of the 4 lists. Some have nicknamed it ‘Waterworld’ since its discovery in December of 2009. It orbits a red dwarf star some 40-42 light years from us and is a ‘super Earth’, a planet whose mass is between Earth and Neptune. It is triple the size of Earth, but its mass is about 6.5 Earths.

Waterworld - as you might guess - is probably covered in water, reaching depths far deeper than Earth’s oceans. It is assumed to have a solid core, but the lists disagree about that core. One assumed the core would be made of rock, one simply said the core was ‘solid’, and the third stated that with an ocean that deep, the pressure and cold could have formed a core made of different forms of ice.

The depths of this ocean might be frigid, but not the atmosphere, which it definitely has. This planet’s air is described as ‘thick’ and ‘steamy’. It is thought to be home to water in a medley of phases, such as steam, liquid, and plasma. Maybe even ice, down in the core region. Another scientist said that Waterworld’s high temperatures and high pressures could form some exotic materials, such as ‘hot ice’ or ‘superfluid water’.

The possibility of ‘exotic forms of water’ makes me think of an episode from the original series of Star Trek. Small bits of a freakish form of water would ‘infect’ people and make them behave as if they were drunk, even to the point of committing suicide. For most of the episode, Dr McCoy and his team could not figure out what had gotten into the victims... all the tests just considered this stuff water. But in the end, of course, they got it figured out and devised an antidote. There was a very similar episode in ST The Next Generation.

Hmm. I wonder if ‘Waterworld’s ocean consists of salt water, or something more closely resembling fresh water. If the only thing solid is the core - which at the very least might well be covered in ice, if not composed of ice - then where would it get any salt?

And if the ocean is fresh water, what are the chances that it managed to produce any life? Probably not life as we know it, because we need a whole bunch of stuff besides the hydrogen and oxygen found in water. Stuff like iron, carbon and potassium, just to name a few.

Now, let’s all think about this and try to figure out how plain water might manage to create living creatures. And when we’re done with that, let’s tackle the intelligence question.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Weird Planets 2

I did find some exoplanets listed on more than one list. But none of them showed up on all 4 lists! So much for ‘Weird is weird.’

The first one we’ll look at is 55 Cancri e, which somebody has nicknamed ‘The Diamond Planet. It is only 40 light-years from us, and one list says it is worth about $26.9 nonillion ($26.9 followed by 29 zeroes). None of the other planets on these lists come with a price tag, so why does this one? Because they figure about 1/3 of its surface is made of diamonds. It is only twice the size of Earth, but it is almost 8 times denser than Earth. There must be something there that is denser than Earth’s rocky core. There is speculation that it has a ‘weird’ chemistry from what we know on Earth, and that it might consist of graphite and other forms of carbon.

So why would so much of it be made of diamond? Diamonds are carbon that is exposed to high temperatures and intense pressure over time. And 55 Cancri e has plenty of both! Despite its size, it orbits its sun closely, about 1/25th the distance from our sun to Mercury. At that distance, its ‘year’ is 18 hours long, and it is tidally locked, meaning the same face of the planet is always pointed at its sun. On that sunny side of the planet, the temperature could be about 3900 degrees F. Plenty hot, I would think. And as dense as it is, anything that is not actually laying on the surface would soon find itself squeezed so hard, its molecules get really up close and personal. If that item was mostly carbon, that pressure and heat would produce a diamond.

So far, 3 of the lists agree about it, but the NASA list included some thoughts about it that the others didn’t. It has been proposed that 55 Cancri e has a rocky core surrounded by a layer of water in a ‘supercritical’ state where it is both liquid and gas. It is also thought this planet is topped by a blanket of steam.

Does that negate the idea of a big chunk of it being diamond? I don’t know. NASA didn’t mention graphite, carbon or diamonds. Yes, the name on each list is 55 Cancri e; I double and triple checked. I suppose all 3 lists could be right, but those who compiled the lists only mentioned the tidbits of information that they found fascinating. What do you think?