George Lucas dreamed up planets with two suns and cloud cities, and Gene Roddenberry invented dozens of worlds that were all suspiciously similar to the Southern California desert. But as actual space exploration advances and we start to learn what's really on the surface of those distant worlds, it becomes increasingly clear that our imagination has no chance of competing with the jaw-dropping, pants-peeing craziness outer space is capable of cooking up.
For instance ...
6Gliese 436 b Is Coated in Burning Ice
This may seem completely foreign to you, but just for a moment try to pretend you are Han Solo (ladies, you can pretend you're Princess Leia). You are in the rebel base on the planet Hoth, and every inch of the entire planet is covered in ice. What you are picturing right now is somewhere close to the actual Gliese 436 b. The key difference, however, is that the planet is so close to its star that it stays at a consistent 800 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface.
In other words, T-shirt weather.
"So where the hell did all this damn ice come from?" you say, because it's understandably confusing and because once you're Han, it's hard to step out of character. Everyone knows there's no way that ice, let alone liquid water, can exist at more than four times its boiling temperature.
But Gliese 436 b has the remarkable ability to defy everything you know about the predictability of matter. The gravity on the planet is so powerful that it compresses all of the water vapor in the atmosphere and pushes it together into a solid, forming a thick layer over the entire planet of what scientists call "ice ten."
It's like Satan's Aspen.
So the result is kind of like the ice we have here on Earth, except it would do absolutely nothing for a warm soda, and holding a hunk of it in your hand would require you to get a new hand. So it would make the world's most awesome, destructive snowman, is what we're saying.