space is terrifying (pt. 4, exoplanets beyond imagination)
Read pt. 3, The Smallness of Humanity.
Image: I know Jupiter isn’t beyond one’s imagination. But it’s still one scary planet.
The worlds discovered beyond our solar system challenge and reshape our fundamental notions about what a planet means.
Many of these strange environments seem ripped from the pages of science fiction, revealing aspects of reality our Earthbound minds could never have conjured on our own.
Some exoplanets orbit so close to their parent stars that their very surfaces likely resemble hellscapes, with molten metals pooled on the dayside and high-speed winds carrying iron droplets between hemispheres.
On tidally locked ‘dark’ worlds that permanently show the same face to their stars, planetwide storms may howl ceaselessly in the atmospheric limbo between perpetual day and night.
Other exotic planets (not just Uranus) may feature clouds of diamond rain, torrential downpours of molten glass, or dramatic seasons when an entire ocean boils away into vapor before condensing out of the atmosphere again. Alien biospheres could thrive on such worlds through bizarre chemistries unfathomable to human scientists.
The more we learn, the more our imaginations fall short.
Worlds have been discovered where the atmospheric pressure at the surface exceeds all known materials, with elements like iron compressed into exotic allotropes. Some gas giants likely contain rocky ‘ocean planets’ with entire civilizations that could rise and fall unnoticed within their massive atmospheres.
Our visions of what alien life and worlds might look like have barely scratched the surface of cosmic possibilities. The sheer variety of environments beyond our solar system challenges our preconceptions of what constitutes habitable.
With each discovery, we realize our provincialism anew. The multiverse likely contains Earth analogs and realms of physics and being we cannot begin to comprehend, stranger than any fiction our earthly minds could invent.
Venturing beyond familiar skies and gardens has revealed how vast and wild the cosmos truly is, filled with wonders and terrors beyond our imagination.
The more we learn, the more we realize how little we truly understand – and how far we have yet to travel before we can call those alien shores our home.