A Graveyard of Planets

Author’s Note – Humanity had set out to find a planet similar to Earth. Instead, we are rapidly uncovering the different ways in which planet formation could go terribly wrong. This story voices my perspective on all such planets. Enjoy!  

There is Earth, snuggled cozily in Milky Way’s arm just at the right distance from its sun to harbor life. Then there’s hell in all its different flavors.

Hundreds of light years from Earth and a mere two million miles from its own star orbits the WASP-12b, a planet darker than night and hotter than hell. It orbits so close to its star that after being susceptible to its scorching temperatures for millions of years, it eventually ceased absorbing light. Clouds and alkali metals, the very ingredients that absorb starlight have vaporized from its atmosphere, leaving the planet cold, dark, and doomed. The host star is sucking away its material at a staggering pace, and very soon the only hint of the planet’s presence will be the skeletal remains of its core. Given its small size, low mass, and the terrifying environment it is exposed to, it’s a wonder it has survived till date.

NASA, ESA. Star Devouring a Planet. 20 May. 2010. hubblesite.org. Web. 17 Oct. 2018.  

A little closer to Earth is COROT – 7b, an exoplanet about twice the size of Earth, juggling a deadly mix of fire and ice. Being tidally locked to its star, a part of its surface suffers in eternal darkness while the other bubbles like a pan of boiling water. The only atmosphere that dares to exist in this forsaken world is produced from the melting silicates. The only rains that this exoplanet has the fortune to witness are showers of rocks.

ESO/L. Calçada. Artist’s Impression of COROT-7b. nd. nasa.gov. Web. 17 Oct. 2018. 

When I thought that nothing could top these afflicted worlds, I realized a planet need not be split into hot and cold to suffer. Tiny rocky planets that orbit pulsars are too far away to make any good use of their dead star’s heat. They are instead at the mercy of intense magnetic fields and X-rays that shower upon them, scraping away their surfaces none too gently.

NASA/JPL. Extreme Planets. March 24. 2008. nasa.gov. Web. 17 Oct. 2018. 

While these worlds have been lucky enough to have formed around a star and stayed in the same solar system, there are thousand others that aren’t. Kicked out of their home systems, the now starless rogue planets wander the solar system, without a place to call home or planets to call family.

In a place where torturous worlds are surprisingly common, it is a wonder that life has thrived on Earth. And if life on all of these planets has to paw through such violent extremes to surface, I’d rather it remain unbegun.

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