Researchers have identified an exoplanet that appears to have an atmosphere composed of vaporized rock and oceans running with lava, supersonic winds, and rock glaciers.
Astronomers originally discovered the exoplanet, known as K2-141b, in 2017. At around 1.5 times the size of Earth, it is so close to its star that it is able to complete full orbits several times per day.
In the present study, the researchers wanted to understand the composition of K2-141's atmosphere. They thus started by examining previous studies on the exoplanet to piece together information that would allow them to calculate it.
From one such study, for example, showing that the planet has a similar density to that of Earth, they could model the crust is pure silica. Seeing that over half of the planet's surface may be permanently sunlit, the researchers found that it may host magma oceans tens of miles of kilometers deep.
From here, they were then able to create three models of what the planet's atmosphere would look like, based on three potential main ingredients, all common on the crusts of rocky planets. In all three cases, they found that the planet would be able to support wind speeds at above 1.1 miles per second, or faster than the speed of sound.
They also found that, at the edges of the planet's atmosphere, where temperatures fall, gaseous rock would be able to cool enough to fall back to the surface as precipitation. Would the atmosphere be dominated by sodium, they said that solid sodium would then ooze back toward oceans as glaciers do on Earth.
The calculations, according to the researchers, provide models that can be compared to the current observation capacities of massive telescopes. Currently pouring through data from the Spitzer Space Telescope to deduce temperatures on the planet's day and night sides, they are looking forward to NASA's launch of the James Webb Space Telescope next year to expand their analysis.