It’s always fun when real life discoveries tie in with pop culture, with the latest example being astronomers discovering a “hell planet” that will sound all too familiar to Star Wars fans.
A world about the size of Mars designated K2-141b has been observed hundreds of light years away. It’s so close to its sun that it’s become gravitationally locked, meaning it orbits the star at the same rate it rotates on its axis, which results in the same side always facing towards an intense heat upwards of 5,400ºF (3000ºC) that not only melts rock into a vast sea of lava, but also vaporizes it to form a thin and inhospitable atmosphere. Winds blowing at four times the speed of sound carry the evaporated stone towards the planet’s dark side, where temperatures dropping as low as -328ºF (-200ºC) cause it to condense and fall as rain back to the magma ocean, and so on in a perpetual cycle.
Of course, the visuals conjured up by such harsh conditions call to mind the mining planet Mustafar from Star Wars, most famous for being the place where Anakin Skywalker had his fateful duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith, and then after rising as Darth Vader established his base there above a cave that was once a Sith shrine and acted as a locus of Dark Side energy.
The unstable hellscape of Mustafar is caused by its precarious orbit caught between the gravity wells of two gas giants, the warring celestial forces creating instability in the planet’s surface that make it hostile to settlers but useful for the likes of ruthless commerce guild the Techno Union and crime syndicate Black Sun.
Another, less ubiquitously accessible comparison is the volcanic prison planet of Crematoria from The Chronicles of Riddick, where during an escape, the eponymous antihero leads convicts across its surface where they must race against the approaching dawn, since with the daylight comes enough heat to incinerate them in seconds, the necessity of staying in the darkness being a neat inversion of the primary survival tactic in Riddick’s first outing Pitch Black.
The purpose of studying K2-141b is to learn more about the early days of the Earth, when it too was covered in lava before cooling into a habitable solid surface, but if any observations happen to come across an ominous black fortress standing defiantly above lakes of superheated molten rock, can we agree to just leave it alone?