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The planet from Hell

With a cool name that's right out of "Star Trek", newly discovered exoplanet COROT Exo-7b is the first rocky planet to be identified outside of our solar system. The planet has a gravity of 1.5 g (versus Earth's 1 g), an atmosphere, and may have bubbling oceans of molten lava on the side facing its parent star-a sunlike yellow star called COROT-7.

But while terrestrial-like COROT Exo-7b is slightly larger than Earth and orbits a similar sun, all other comparisons to our blue-green planet must be thrown out the window-COROT Exo-7b is a world that could support Dante's notion of the Inferno. COROT Exo-7b has been called the Planet from Hell by some astronomers for that very reason. But COROT Exo-7b's Hell is one of contrasts between both lava and ice.

With a rapid orbital period of 20 hours, COROT Exo-7b zips around its sun like a bandit. However, the planet doesn't rotate like Earth. Thus. one side is tidally locked to its sun resulting in a bizarre place of extremes.

COROT Exo-7b also orbits in very close to COROT-7, about 1/23rd the distance between our Sun and Mercury. With one face to the sun and being so close to the furnace, the excessive temperatures on the daylight side of the planet mean any rock is in a molten state-think of a vast volcanic place with bubbling oceans of lava.

Astronomer guess that the atmosphere of COROT Exo-7b is composed of vaporized silicates and metals-that is, gaseous rock! It appears the main ingredients of the planet's atmosphere are sodium, oxygen, silicon monoxide, potassium, magnesium, aluminum, calcium, silicon, iron and uranium. Hell, indeed!

COROT Exo-7b's surface temperature may be between 3,300 to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Astronomers can only guess at the planet's eternal nightside-perhaps something like Pluto? There may be a twilight zone straddling the day and night side of COROT Exo-7b. In this narrow zone, surface temperatures may be a tad more Earthlike. However, with an atmosphere of vaporized rock, life as we know could never exist even in the planet's twilight zone.

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