#3. PSR B1257+12 b Orbits a Massive Spinning Strobe Light
As strange as all the worlds on this list have been, they share the same characteristic we expect from our planets: They orbit a star. Well, some planets aren't interested in conforming to The Man's expectations. For instance, PSR B1257+12 b is the first of a handful of planets ever discovered orbiting a pulsar.
For anyone unfamiliar, a pulsar is somewhere between a star and a black hole. A star naturally collapses in on itself throughout its life until the buildup of pressure at its core is so great that it explodes into a nova or supernova. What's left at the end of the explosion is the dense core that's only about 10 miles in diameter called a neutron star. If that neutron star continues to spit out radiation and light, then we call it a pulsar. In short, PSR B1257+12 b orbits a giant, radioactive disco ball.
Those of you who live in Las Vegas already sort of know what that feels like.
That means that the only light the planet ever gets is full of deadly radiation, but at least it looks awfully pretty. Pulsars emit beams in pulses because they're rotating, so if you were standing on the planet, it would look like a giant blue strobe in the sky.
This really isn't the planet for epileptic astronauts, and technically it's really not a planet for anyone -- PSR B1257+12 b is bathed in so much radiation that one side of it actually glows blue.
"Excuse me, vacation planner ... we were promised powers?"
#2. Titan Is Slathered in Fossil Fuels
Saturn's moon Titan is the only moon we know of with its own atmosphere. In fact, the atmosphere is so thick that we had no idea what the surface was made of until we sent a probe in 2005 (yes, we were banking on cheese here as well). From Titan, you wouldn't even be able to see Saturn's rings, because every day is the equivalent of the most miserable day in Seattle or England. Except instead of raining water, it rains fuel.
And the coffee is shit.
The dreary overcast skies are a result of cryovolcanoes, which spew out water and ammonia in lieu of magma. And the clouds are made up of liquid methane, the primary component of natural gas. In fact, there is so much gas-rain that it's formed entire rivers and oceans. The polar lakes alone house hundreds of times more oil and natural gas than every known oil and gas reserve on Earth. The whole moon is an oil tycoon's wet dream. Oh, and speaking of dreams, did we mention you can fly on Titan?
The atmosphere is dense enough and the gravity is weak enough that if you could construct yourself a set of wings, you could absolutely flap around through the sky, taking in the sights of that dismal, toxic wasteland.
Oh, don't worry, that's a false color image of the lakes. The real version is as dark as your most guarded nightmares.
Yet despite the moon being a veritable hell, life may already be there. Scientists suspect that life on Titan may use methane instead of water for its primary functions, keeping warm with the tidal heat deep within the moon's core. In a few centuries we could feasibly be fighting oil-based life forms for the very resource that's keeping them alive. Suddenly, Avatar seems a lot less absurd.
#1. Gliese 581 c Is a Hellish Landscape With Black Plants and a Red Sky
Of the limited number of planets where humanity might actually be able to live, Gliese 581 c is the closest. But don't think that means it looks like Earth. Assuming it could sustain life, here's exactly what you could expect:
The planet orbits a red dwarf, so the sky would always be a bloody crimson. The red light wouldn't just make you feel strange; it would affect all vegetation, forcing every plant to attain photosynthetic energy from the infrared spectrum. The tangible consequence of that is that every plant would look pitch black.
Holy shit, we finally found out where goths come from!
You would also wake up each day to a perpetual state of twilight. That's because Gliese 581 c is so close to its star that it doesn't revolve anymore; one side of the planet always faces the star, and one side stays in darkness forever. The only place where you or anything else could survive is on the narrow strip between the two where the temperature is just right.
It can't be arsed to rotate. We may finally have found Laziness Valhalla.
And with one side of the planet always hot and one always cold, you can expect some strange weather patterns, with gale winds perpetually surging from the hot to the cold side every day, along with permanent torrential rain, because there are no seasons.
So to summarize: red skies, black plants, gale winds, never-ending twilight and a step too far in one direction could lead to either freezing to death or incineration.
So it's probably best to check with MapQuest before even going down the block.
And yet, rather than tiptoeing around that planet and looking for life somewhere a little less terrifying, we're doing our best to wake up whatever nightmare might be living there already. In October 2008, we sent a message from Earth directly at Gliese 581 c, and it should reach the devil planet around 2029. Then, presumably, misfortune will infest our souls for eternity, but think of how much it will teach us about space!
Nick Dobkin likes starting epic sci-fi animations that he never intends to finish. Find him on Twitter.
For more on the awesome magnitude of space, check out The 6 Most Mind-Blowing Things Ever Discovered in Space and 5 Cosmic Events That Could Kill You Before Lunch.