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Astronomers discover bizarre Earth-sized planet that's half lava

Astronomers discover bizarre Earth-sized planet that's half lava

This new exoplanet sounds like something straight out of science fiction.

There's nothing like the description of a strange new world to get the blood pumping, and nothing can touch NASA when it comes to space discoveries.

The space agency has just found a new planet that orbits a star much like our own sun - although that hasn't made for a similarly hospitable environment.

The planet is called (wait for it) HD 63433 d, and has an absolutely fascinating surface situation - one that sounds like something from an overly ambitious Star Wars script.

DrPixel / Getty

Because the planet is tidally locked, half of it is constantly facing away from the star it orbits, leaving it perpetually veiled in darkness, while the other half roasts in light and heat.

Unlike Earth, this planet is way, way closer to its star, which explains the insane temperatures, which apparently hit highs of 2,294° F (1,257° C).

That incredible heat means NASA is happy to speculate that the planet might have a 'lava hemisphere', which is actually almost exactly what it says on the tin.

It's known as an exoplanet as it is outside of our solar system, and is the smallest confirmed exoplanet younger than 500 million years old - so it's basically a baby, in space terms.

So, we could be talking about a planet where half of it is constantly dark and the other half is a boiling, roiling landscape of lava flows and flames - what a world...

Given how many science fiction books and movies are anchored around the idea of finding a planet with a similar size and star to our own to potentially make a new home, it's a pretty interesting discovery.

kampee patisena / Getty

And on paper, it sounds like an option - after all, HD 63433 d is really close to Earth in size, at just 1.1 times our diameter - but the whole lava hemisphere thing isn't particularly appealing.

Still, just because its surface sounds like something of a hellscape doesn't mean NASA is automatically done with HD 63433 d - there are still a few reasons why further investigation could be worthwhile, including finding out more about its mysterious dark side.

Plus, figuring out what the atmosphere of this sort of planet looks like could also yield data that might one day come in handy, just like figuring out more about asteroids or black holes.

Featured Image Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle/ NEMES LASZLO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY/ Getty