Science and Tech Features
Five Weirdest Weather Phenomena on Alien Planets

CJ Miozzi | 11 Apr 2014 13:00
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gliese-1214b-plasma-world

An atmosphere of pure plasma

The search for water in our universe is closely tied with the search for life. As such, any leads in the hunt for H2O are met with great interest in the scientific community, and planet Gliese 1214 b raised a few eyebrows when it was discovered to have an atmosphere rich in water.

Unfortunately, that water doesn't exist in a liquid state. In fact, it doesn't even exist in a solid or gaseous state - it's a plasma. Gliese 1214 b orbits its star at a distance 70 times closer than the Earth orbits the Sun, reaching temperatures of 280 °C, making it uninhabitable.

Take a block of ice - solid H2O; one part oxygen, two parts hydrogen. The water molecules are arranged in a rigidly structured pattern. Add some heat, and the molecules get excited; they begin vibrating and lose their cohesion, but remain held together as a liquid. Add more heat, and the molecules become excited enough to move around freely, separated from each other by vast distances: water vapor.

But add even more heat and the molecules themselves lose their cohesion, breaking apart into charged particles. You're no longer dealing with simple molecules of H2O floating around, but also the "broken" components of water molecules, including oxygen, hydrogen, and even free electrons, all floating around as a soupy mess we call plasma.

Yes, this is the same plasma found in plasma TVs, but other examples of plasma you may be unaware of include fluorescent lamps, neon signs, and lightning. Needless to say, you wouldn't want to breathe any of these, let alone live on a planet in which the air itself was plasma.

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