At the moment, some of our best minds are trying to find a habitable, Earth-like planet as a Plan B, in case things go really bad here. We don’t have many contenders so far, as it’s difficult – almost impossible – for all the right conditions to come together like they do here on Earth.
What we do have, however, is a whole list of places that definitely can’t support human, or any other kind of, life. Some of these scariest planets in the known universe are so hostile that it’s next-to-impossible to even reach them for study, let alone colonize and terraform them for human habitation.
10. Upsilon Andromedae b
The gas giant Upsilon Andromedae b was discovered in 1996. Located in the Andromeda constellation, it’s about 40 light years from our solar system, and so large that two other planets circle it. It completes an orbit around its star in about 4.6 days, compared to 88 days of Mercury, making it much closer to its sun than any other planet in our solar system.
Here, the temperature on the warm side can reach about 2,500 to 3,000 Fahrenheit. If you go to the other, cooler side, however, it might dip as low as – 4 Fahrenheit. According to researchers, it’s the greatest variation in temperature ever observed outside the Solar System. We don’t know why it happens, though, as large gaseous planets like Jupiter usually maintain a uniform temperature throughout their surface.
9. GJ 1214b
The planet called GJ 1214b was discovered in December, 2009 by the MEarth Project – an ongoing effort to find Earth-like exoplanets in our own galaxy. At about 42 light years of distance from us, it’s one of the most Earth-like planets we know of, as it’s almost entirely made of water. That’s where the similarities end, however, as GJ 1214b is not habitable or fit for life in any way.
As the planet is about 70 times closer to its Sun than Earth, temperatures can reach up to 540 Fahrenheit. The water found on GJ 1214b only exists at the bottom of its hot atmosphere, and according to some scientists, it may be in a weird, superheated plasma form instead of the usual liquid or gas.
On first look, Jupiter seems like a cool planet to settle on, at least in terms of space. It’s easily the largest thing in the solar system after the Sun – so large, in fact, that its gravitational pull affects the motion of other planets and moons, including our own. With a surface that huge, the first human settlers on Jupiter would at least have plenty of space to work with.
Except, Jupiter has no surface to speak of. The planet is almost entirely made up of gas, mainly helium and hydrogen – a trip to Jupiter would be like falling through a giant cloud, only much worse. As you’d reach the innermost layer, the pressure would be about two million times stronger than the Earth’s surface, with temperatures higher than those found at the surface of the Sun.
Jupiter is also home to humungous, devastating storms due to its unusually fast rate of rotation. The largest one is called the Great Red Spot, which has now been continuously observed for more than 300 years.
OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb is a distant planet close to Sagittarius A – the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It was discovered in 2006 by an observational effect first predicted by Einstein – gravitational microlensing – which is now one of the few reliable methods we have for detecting faraway planets in the habitable zones of their stars.
We don’t know a lot about OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb – as it’s more than 20,000 light years away – though we do know that it’s the coldest planet we’ve ever observed. On the surface, average temperatures can go as low as -223 Celsius, or about 370 Fahrenheit, thanks to the relatively-low temperature and mass of its red dwarf star.
Despite its proximity to Earth, Venus has never been on our list of potentially-habitable planets. It was first explored by NASA’s Mariner 2 in 1962, and since then, many countries have tried to land their own missions on its surface. So far, none of them have been successful, as the probes usually get destroyed by the intense heat and pressure of its atmosphere long before they reach the surface.
It’s the hottest planet in the Solar System, even though Mercury is much closer to the Sun, thanks to the extreme greenhouse effect generated by trapped carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid and other harmful substances in its atmosphere. The air is so heavy that pressure levels at the surface could be about 90 times higher than Earth, even if no mission has ever been able to properly study Venus’s surface. According to a few scientists, while those conditions are definitely not fit for life, Venus may harbor some life forms higher up in its atmosphere.
COROT-7b lies in the Monoceros constellation, about 500 light years away from Earth. Discovered in 2009 by the French satellite CoRoT – short for Convection, Rotation and Planetary Transits – it’s more similar to Earth than most gaseous giants we come across. Apart from the solid, rocky composition, both the planets are made of silicates and other similar compounds.
Unlike Earth, however, COROT-7b is merely 1.6 million miles away from its star, or about 23 times closer than we are to our Sun. Because of that, temperatures here can reach more than 4,200 Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt rocks. According to simulation models run by a team of scientists at Washington University St. Louis, the atmosphere of COROT-7b is likely made up of rocks in various stages of melting, and they occasionally cool down and fall into the surface made of molten lava.
When Kepler-10b was first detected in 2009, researchers used something called asteroseismology to observe its parent star – Kepler 10. Despite the vast distance – about 560 light years from Earth – the technique allowed them to study the star’s structure and composition. With that, they were able to deduce that Kepler-10b is a rocky planet like Earth, and may even have a solid surface unlike most other exoplanets we know of.
If we talk about its environment, though, Kepler-10b is as different from Earth as one can expect. It’s more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our Sun, causing the surface temperature to go as high as 2,500 Fahrenheit during the day. If that wasn’t enough, Kepler-10b is constantly bombarded with so much radiation from its star that it’s unable to maintain an atmosphere.
3. WASP-76 b
WASP-76 b is named after the Wide Angle Search for Planets, or WASP – a collaboration of observatories looking for planets in other solar systems. So far, WASP arrays have discovered hundreds of exoplanets in their search for potentially-habitable, Earth-like planets nearby. While some of them may harbor conditions fit for life, WASP-76 b certainly does not.
It revolves about 2.5 million miles away from its star – ten times closer than Mercury is to our Sun. While WASP-76 b is about as big as Jupiter, the high amounts of radiation and heat from its star have turned it into an oval shape, as its width is now 1.8 times longer than that of Jupiter. It’s also tidally-locked, with its day and night sides fixed just like our own moon.
Temperatures can reach up to 2,370 Fahrenheit on its night side and around 4,350 Fahrenheit on its day side – high enough to ionize most metals we know of. Some scientists theorize that because of this difference in temperature, molten, ionized metals might travel towards the night side and occasionally shower it with rain made of molten iron.
2. HD 189733b
HD 189733b is a bright blue planet in the Vulpecula constellation, about 63 light years away from Earth. Its Earth-like blue appearance might fool one into mistaking it for a habitable place full of water and other early indicators of life. Venture a bit closer, though, and you’d quickly realize that’s not the case.
HD 189733b is much larger than Earth – about the size of Jupiter – though it revolves around its sun in just 2.2 Earth days. It’s a lot closer to its star, and the temperature on the surface ranges from 1,200 – 1,700 Fahrenheit. It’s also quite windy – the average wind speed on the planet could go as high as 6,000 miles per hour, or about seven times the speed of sound. If the deafening wind doesn’t kill you, the planet also features thunderstorms and rain made of molten and solid glass, often flying sideways due to the high speed of the wind.
1. HD 80606b
HD 80606b was discovered in 2001 by a Swiss team at the Geneva Observatory. It’s about 200 light years away, and close to four times the mass of Jupiter, making it one of the many supersized exoplanets we’ve discovered in the past few decades.
To say that the weather on HD 80606b is ‘wild’ would be an understatement. The temperature here can change by more than 1000 Fahrenheit within hours, thanks to its abnormally-elongated orbit that periodically brings it closer to its star. An observer would watch the days grow hotter at an alarmingly-fast rate in the summers, as the Sun’s brightness goes up by a factor of 1,000 within days. According to a scientific simulation, these wild swings in temperatures could also be due to winds that can reach upto 11,000 miles per hour, creating shockwaves across the surface travelling faster than the speed of sound.