The search for stars, planets, and extraterrestrial life has led to quite a number of extraordinary discoveries, however, some of these end up being somewhat mind-boggling for both professional and amateur astronomers alike. Every day, NASA scans the galaxy in search of new types of planets, stars, and systems dispersed throughout the cosmos. The Kepler spacecraft has discovered the most exoplanets, which are planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Many of these planets take the namesake of this telescope like the Kepler-10b which was one of the first confirmed terrestrial planets to be discovered outside of our solar system. It is incredibly close to its star the Kepler 10. Space is weird and its mysteriousness is exactly the reason why people were fascinated with the night sky since the beginning of our time. Although we find tons of new exoplanets every year, we’ve rounded up 10 of them for you.
Here are nine of the most bizarre types of planets we know about.
- The Oldest: PSR B1620-26b
The name PSR B1620-26b, like many other exoplanets, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. But this is the oldest planet known, at somewhere around 12.7 billion years old. That’s just a little younger than the universe itself. The ancient planet orbits both a pulsar and an ultra-dense white dwarf, itself another supernova remnant. The two stars orbit each other while the gas giant orbits around the gravitational center of those dense dance partners.
- The Real-Life Tatooine: Kepler-16b
Kepler-16b is essentially the real-life equivalent of the Star Wars planet Tatooine. This is because Kepler-16b is one of the only exoplanets ever found that orbits a binary star system. Kepler-16b has a mass of about 105 Earths and is 8.5 times the radius of our world. This exoplanet has an atmosphere comprised of hydrogen, methane, and small amounts of helium. Approximately 200 light-years away from our solar system, Kepler-16b completes an orbit around its two stars in 627 of our Earth years. Although it may look like Tatooine, Kepler-16b cannot support life. So don’t expect to find any droids there!
- New Earth: Kepler-22b
One of the most promising and early findings from Kepler is the Kepler 22b. 600 light years away from earth it’s twice the size of Earth and should have temperatures around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This planet is considered a “super-Earth” and is within the habitable zone of its star. Its star is within the Lyra and Cygnus constellations and shines 25% less bright than our sun. Scientists think that the planet may have a rocky core and be covered in an ocean like Neptune. But life on the planet isn’t out of the question yet. Kepler deputy science chief stated that “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that life could exist in such an ocean.”
- The Hottest: WASP-12b
WASP-12b is the hottest ever exoplanet discovered with an average temperature of 2250 degrees Celsius. This is because it orbits just 2,115,000 miles from its host star – Earth orbits the sun at 44 times this distance. As a result, it takes just over a day to orbit the star, compared to a year for us. WASP-17b is unique in the sense that it is the first planet to be discovered that orbits the opposite direction of its host star. Moreover, it is the puffiest planet to have been discovered as it is the second large but has half of Jupiter’s mass.
- Saturn On Steroids: J1407b
J1407b has been referred to as a “Saturn on steroids” or “Super Saturn” due to its massive system of circumplanetary rings about 640 times the one of Saturn’s rings in the types of planets. It is an exoplanet located 434 light years from Earth in the constellation of Centaurus and is the only known exoplanet with rings similar to Saturn. If this planet swapped places with Saturn, its rings would dominate the Earth’s sky and would appear many times larger than a full moon. There is a large gap halfway through the ring system and it’s possible that a Mars-sized exomoon orbits the planet within this gap. If there are any aliens living on this exomoon, then they have an extraordinary view looking up into the sky.
- The youngest: V830 Tauri
Another types of planets include the youngest V830 Tauri. The planetary system V830 Tauri is only 2 million years old. The host star has the same mass as our sun but twice the radius, which means it has not fully contracted into its final shape yet. The planet – a gas giant with three quarters the mass of Jupiter – is likewise probably still growing. That means it is acquiring more mass by frequently colliding with other planetary bodies like asteroids in its path – making it an unsafe place to be.
- The Dark Planet: TrES-2b
TrES-2b is the darkest exoplanet ever found, reflecting less than 1 percent of the sunlight that hits it. This makes it darker than coal or black acrylic paint. It’s actually a miracle that we found the planet because the light was so scarce. This raises an important question: How many exoplanets have we missed due to the lack of light? TrES-2b is about 750 light-years away from our solar system. Its atmosphere contains vaporized sodium, potassium, and titanium oxide—all of which absorb light. However, it is still a mystery as to why the planet is so dark, a mystery that may never be solved. Perhaps an alien race inhabits this strange planet and we just don’t know about it.
- The First: PSR B1257+12 A
The first exoplanet discovered still holds the record for being the least massive. PSR B1257+12 A is barely bigger than the moon, orbiting the harsh environment of a pulsar. The planets in the system were discovered in 1992 by the tug they gave on their home star. Pulsars are known as cosmic timekeepers, sometimes called the “most accurate clocks in the universe.” But something was making the beat of PSR B1257+12 just a little off. It was determined that the culprits in question were two planets, including this one. A third was later found, and claims to a third were made and subsequently retracted.
- A Diamond Planet: 55 Cancri E
55 Cancri E is only about 40 light-years away from us in the Cancer constellation. It is twice the size of Earth but is nearly 8 times more massive and twice as dense. The parent star has much more carbon than our own sun, and the mass of the planet is thought to be largely carbon. Due to the pressure and average maximum surface temperature of 4417 °F (2400 °C), this ‘super-Earth’ is believed to be covered with diamonds. It is so close to its parent star it takes a mere 18 hours for the planet to complete a full orbit.
- The Burning Ice Planet: Gliese 436 b
Gliese 436 b is one of astronomy’s most baffling contradictions and has been jokingly nicknamed the ‘burning ice planet’ in the list of the types of planets. This is because while the planet itself has an average temperature of 439°C, it is surrounded by a very cold cloud of hydrogen that’s 50 times its size. Thanks to the reaction that takes place between the planet and the hydrogen cloud, a stunning trail of evaporated matter can be seen following the planet’s orbit.