Throughout our vast universe there are billions of galaxies, made up of countless stars, planets and even the occasional black hole. So it isn’t that surprising that there are worlds out there, exceeding even our wildest expectations. Around 30 light years away, orbiting a small red dwarf in the constellation Leo, lies a planet, which may be one of the most contradicting places that we know of. Known as Gliese 436 b, it is roughly the size of Neptune and is located only four million kilometers from its star. This may seem like a lot, but in reality it isn’t even one fourteenth of the distance between the Sun and its nearest planet, Mercury.
It is so close, that it takes just a bit over 63 hours for it to complete one full orbit. Based on the planet’s size, scientist have concluded that it is too small to be a hydrogen giant like Saturn or Jupiter, but also way too big to be made out of rock like our own Earth. Therefore, they believe it is mostly made up of water. Due to the close proximity to its star, the temperature on the planet’s surface can rise well above 400 degrees Celsius, so it would be safe to assume that the majority of that water would be made up of vapor.
Incredibly, that is not the case. The massive pressure inside the planet’s interior compresses the water so tightly, that it remains solid even when subjected to hundreds of degrees centigrade, making it essentially burning ice. Nevertheless, a portion of the planet does evaporate, creating a constant trail of hydrogen behind it.
Water has many different solid states, only one of which is ordinary ice. Under varying conditions like temperature and pressure it can form a whole range of crystalline structures, similar to the carbon structure of diamonds. Scientist hypothesize that Gliese 436 b is covered in Ice VII, a cubic crystalline which can be formed from normal water above 30,000 atmospheres.