David A. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
David A. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

The Terrible Weather on 6 Exoplanets

David A. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
David A. Aguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Of the more than 900 exoplanets—planets outside our solar system—discovered to date, none, not a single one, appears to be a nice place to visit or live. If anything, descriptions of most of these far-flung bodies sound like a walking tour of hell. There’s the planet where glass falls from the sky, or the one where temperatures spike so quickly that they generate supersonic megastorm.

These weather reports are educated guesses, of course, culled from measurements of the apparent mass, infrared output, chemical makeup, and position of each exoplanet. Though the majority of these alien worlds tend to be astonishingly large and hot, that’s more a function of how our space-based and terrestrial telescopes search—big and blazing stands out better than Earth-sized and temperate, and planets with a tighter, closer orbit are more likely to catch our attention by crossing in front of a star. Here are the exoplanets whose estimated weather conditions are as detailed and evocative as they are terrifying, all further reminders of how uniquely livable our own planet is. (Note: There are exoplanets with less harsh or extreme characteristics, but whose weather is even more speculative.)

1. Baking and Breezy: Kepler-76b

Our first selection (above) is, in many ways, the archetypical exoplanet—its name is exceedingly dull, an indication of the telescope that spotted it (NASA’s space-based Kepler telescope, in this case) and the star system it resides in (it’s the “b” planet in the Kepler 76 system). It’s also what astronomers call a “hot Jupiter,” a gas giant with at least as much mass as our own resident behemoth, but with a much higher temperature. Kepler-76b’s hotness comes from its cozy proximity to its own star, circling it every 1.5 days (compared to 4332 days for Jupiter). The result is a world whose surface doesn’t rotate—it’s tidally-locked, like our Moon—but whose blisteringly hot winds do, carrying the 3600-degree Fahrenheit temperatures on its star-facing side around to the “dark” side in a constant, planet-wide gale.

2. Blue Skies, with a Chance of Glass: HD 189733b


HD 189733b's blue sky is caused by silicate particles in the atmosphere that form into droplets of glass, which cast a bluish tinge. Researchers studying the planet with the Hubble space telescope determined not only its unique, cobalt-blue hue, but the fact that its glass rainfall is whipping across the planet at some 4500 mph. And like Kepler-76b, this silicate-scoured deathtrap is a tidally-locked hot Jupiter—though with its permanently dark side averaging around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s comparatively temperate.

3. Bad World Rising: Kepler-36b

David A. Anguilar/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

One of a slim minority of exoplanets discovered that happen to be rocky, Kepler-36b has a turbulent orbital relationship with its neighboring world, 36c. Every 97 days that planet, a “hot Neptune” (like a hot Jupiter, but smaller) gas giant comes perilously close to 36b, roughly five times the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Astronomers paint the spectacle as undoubtedly glorious, with the purple gas giant looming some 2.5 times larger (in diameter) than our own moon. Unfortunately, these picturesque swing-bys would likely trigger cataclysmic—by our standards—seismic activity, as gravitational forces stretch the two planets, triggering even more volcanic activity on 36b, a planet already defined by its lava flows and 1300-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. (The image above shows what 36c might look like from 36b.)

4. A Song of Ice-Cold Rocks and Fire: CoRoT-7b


Like many confirmed exoplanets, CoRoT-7b is close enough to its parent star to be both hotter than anyone’s interpretation of hell (up to 4700 F, to be specific) and tidally-locked, with one hemisphere cooking under a stellar heat lamp. CoRoT-7b is a strange case, though. It’s rocky, so its heat isn’t distributed throughout the planet, as is the case with some gas giants, keeping its dark hemisphere at somewhere around minus 350 F. Weirder still, astronomers believe that 7b’s combination of scorching heat and mineral-rich atmosphere could result in a rainfall of rocks, on both the frigid and lava-soaked sides.

5. High Winds, Green Sunset: HD 209458b

European Space Agency and Alfred Vidal-Madjar (Institut d'Astrophysique de Paris, CNRS, France)

The most interesting thing about HD 209458b isn’t that it’s so ludicrously windy—nearly 4500 mph, similar to the speeds estimated in the glass-blasted upper reaches of HD 189733b—but that it's leaking. Although its atmosphere includes significant amounts of carbon monoxide, sodium, and other elements, the gas giant’s close proximity to its star seems to be tearing the planet’s hydrogen free. HD 209458b could be losing as much as 500 million kg of hydrogen per second, which might be visible in a long, comet-like tail. Anyone somehow lurking within the atmosphere, however, wouldn’t necessarily be able to see that trail, though researchers have described what it might be like to watch the sunset from HD 209458b—a eerie progression from blue to green, no doubt complimented wonderfully by that scouring carbon monoxide super-breeze. 

6. Explosions in the Sky: HD 80606b

D. Kasen, J. Langton, and G. Laughlin (UCSC)

Most days on HD 80606b are simply nightmarish—980 degrees Fahrenheit, with unimaginable pressures due to its mass (four times that of Jupiter). But every 114 or so days, the gas giant’s hugely elliptical orbit brings it point-blank with its star. Over six hours, the temperature rises by some 1000 degrees, and the atmosphere essentially explodes. As the star gets 1000 times brighter, the sudden heat births titanic superstorms, with winds topping 11,000 mph. These atmospheric shockwaves wrap around the planet as it rockets back along its pinched orbital circuit, away from the heat source that creates perhaps the most violent weather system ever discovered.

10 Things We Know About The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2

Though Hulu has been producing original content for more than five years now, 2017 turned out to be a banner year for the streaming network with the debut of The Handmaid’s Tale on April 26, 2017. The dystopian drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, imagines a future in which a theocratic regime known as Gilead has taken over the United States and enslaved fertile women so that the group’s most powerful couples can procreate.

If it all sounds rather bleak, that’s because it is—but it’s also one of the most impressive new series to arrive in years (as evidenced by the slew of awards it has won, including eight Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards). Fortunately, fans left wanting more don’t have that much longer to wait, as season two will premiere on Hulu in April. In the meantime, here’s everything we know about The Handmaid’s Tale’s second season.


When The Handmaid’s Tale returns on April 25, 2018, Hulu will release the first two of its 13 new episodes on premiere night, then drop another new episode every Wednesday.


Fans of Atwood’s novel who didn’t like that season one went beyond the original source material are in for some more disappointment in season two, as the narrative will again go beyond the scope of what Atwood covered. But creator/showrunner Bruce Miller doesn’t necessarily agree with the criticism they received in season one.

“People talk about how we're beyond the book, but we're not really," Miller told Newsweek. "The book starts, then jumps 200 years with an academic discussion at the end of it, about what's happened in those intervening 200 years. We're not going beyond the novel. We're just covering territory [Atwood] covered quickly, a bit more slowly.”

Even more importantly, Miller's got Atwood on his side. The author serves as a consulting producer on the show, and the title isn’t an honorary one. For Miller, Atwood’s input is essential to shaping the show, particularly as it veers off into new territories. And they were already thinking about season two while shooting season one. “Margaret and I had started to talk about the shape of season two halfway through the first [season],” he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, Miller said that when he first began working on the show, he sketched out a full 10 seasons worth of storylines. “That’s what you have to do when you’re taking on a project like this,” he said.


As with season one, motherhood is a key theme in the series. And June/Offred’s pregnancy will be one of the main plotlines. “So much of [Season 2] is about motherhood,” Elisabeth Moss said during the Television Critics Association press tour. “Bruce and I always talked about the impending birth of this child that’s growing inside her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, and the complications of that are really wonderful to explore. It’s a wonderful thing to have a baby, but she’s having it potentially in this world that she may not want to bring it into. And then, you know, if she does have the baby, the baby gets taken away from her and she can’t be its mother. So, obviously, it’s very complicated and makes for good drama. But, it’s a very big part of this season, and it gets bigger and bigger as the show goes on.”


Just because June is pregnant, don’t expect her to sit on the sidelines as the resistance to Gilead continues. “There is more than one way to resist," Moss said. “There is resistance within [June], and that is a big part of this season.”


A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'

Miller, understandably, isn’t eager to share too many details about the new season. “I’m not being cagey!” he swore to Entertainment Weekly. “I just want the viewers to experience it for themselves!” What he did confirm is that the new season will bring us to the colonies—reportedly in episode two—and show what life is like for those who have been sent there.

It will also delve further into what life is like for the refugees who managed to escape Gilead, like Luke and Moira.


Though she won’t be a regular cast member, Miller recently announced that Oscar winner Marisa Tomei will make a guest appearance in the new season’s second episode. Yes, the one that will show us the Colonies. In fact, that’s where we’ll meet her; Tomei is playing the wife of a Commander.


As a group shrouded in secrecy, we still don’t know much about how and where Gilead began. That will change a bit in season two. When discussing some of the questions viewers will have answered, executive producer Warren Littlefield promised that, "How did Gilead come about? How did this happen?” would be two of them. “We get to follow the historical creation of this world,” he said.


A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'

While Miller wouldn’t talk about who the handmaids are mourning in a teaser shot from season two that shows a handmaid’s funeral, he was excited to talk about creating the look for the scene. “Everything from the design of their costumes to the way they look is so chilling,” Miller told Entertainment Weekly. “These scenes that are so beautiful, while set in such a terrible place, provide the kind of contrast that makes me happy.”


Like season one, Miller says that The Handmaid’s Tale's second season will again balance its darker, dystopian themes with glimpses of hopefulness. “I think the first season had very difficult things, and very hopeful things, and I think this season is exactly the same way,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “There come some surprising moments of real hope and victory, and strength, that come from surprising places.”

Moss, however, has a different opinion. “It's a dark season,” she told reporters at TCA. “I would say arguably it's darker than Season 1—if that's possible.”


A scene from 'The Handmaid's Tale'

When pressed about how the teaser images for the new season seemed to feature a lot of blood, Miller conceded: “Oh gosh, yeah. There may be a little more blood this season.”

6 Surprising Facts About Nintendo's Animal Crossing

by Ryan Lambie

Animal Crossing is one of the most unusual series of games Nintendo has ever produced. Casting you as a newcomer in a woodland town populated by garrulous and sometimes eccentric creatures, Animal Crossing is about conversation, friendship, and collecting things rather than competition or shooting enemies. It’s a formula that has grown over successive generations, with the 3DS version now one of the most popular games available for that system—which is all the more impressive, given the game’s obscure origins almost 15 years ago. Here are a few things you might not have known about the video game.


By the late 1990s, Katsuya Eguchi had already worked on some of Nintendo’s greatest games. He’d designed the levels for the classic Super Mario Bros 3. He was the director of Star Fox (or Star Wing, as it was known in the UK), and the designer behind the adorable Yoshi’s Story. But Animal Crossing was inspired by Eguchi’s experiences from his earlier days, when he was a 21-year-old graduate who’d taken the decisive step of moving from Chiba Prefecture, Japan, where he’d grown up and studied, to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto.

Eguchi wanted to recreate the feeling of being alone in a new town, away from friends and family. “I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind Animal Crossing,” Eguchi told Edge magazine in 2008. Receiving letters from your mother, getting a job (from the game’s resident raccoon capitalist, Tom Nook), and gradually filling your empty house with furniture and collectibles all sprang from Eguchi’s memories of first moving to Kyoto.


Although Animal Crossing would eventually become best known as a GameCube title—to the point where many assume that this is where the series began—the game actually appeared first on the N64. First developed for the ill-fated 64DD add-on, Animal Crossing (or Doubutsu no Mori, which translates to Animal Forest) was ultimately released as a standard cartridge. But by the time Animal Crossing emerged in Japan in 2001, the N64 was already nearing the end of its lifespan, and was never localized for a worldwide release.


The GameCube version of Animal Crossing was released in Japan in December 2001, about eight months after the N64 edition. Thanks to the added capacity of the console’s discs, they could include characters like Tortimer or Blathers that weren’t in the N64 iteration, and Animal Crossing soon became a hit with Japanese critics and players alike.

Porting Animal Crossing for an international audience would prove to be a considerable task, however, with the game’s reams of dialogue and cultural references all requiring careful translation. But the effort that writers Nate Bihldorff and Rich Amtower put into the English-language version would soon pay off; Nintendo’s bosses in Japan were so impressed with the additional festivals and sheer personality present in the western version of Animal Crossing that they decided to have that version of the game translated back into Japanese. This new version of the game, called Doubutsu no Mori e+, was released in 2003.


One of Animal Crossing’s most recognizable and popular characters is K.K. Slider, the laidback canine musician. He’s said to be based, both in looks and name, on Kazumi Totaka, the prolific composer and voice actor who co-wrote Animal Crossing’s music. In the Japanese version of Animal Crossing, K.K. Slider is called Totakeke—a play on the real musician’s name. K.K. Slider’s almost as prolific as Totaka, too: Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS contains a total of 91 tracks performed by the character.


A more controversial character than K.K. Slider, Mr. Resetti is an angry mole created to remind players to save the game before switching off their console. And the more often players forget to save their game, the angrier Mr. Resetti gets. Mr. Resetti’s anger apparently disturbed some younger players, though, as Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s project leader Aya Kyogoku revealed in an interview with Nintendo's former president, the late Satoru Iwata.

“We really weren't sure about Mr. Resetti, as he really divides people," Kyogoku said. “Some people love him, of course, but there are others who don't like being shouted at in his rough accent.”

“It seems like younger female players, in particular, are scared,” Iwata agreed. “I've heard that some of them have even cried.”

To avoid the tears, Mr. Resetti plays a less prominent role in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and only appears if the player first builds a Reset Surveillance Centre. Divisive though he is, Mr. Resetti’s been designed and written with as much care as any of the other characters in Animal Crossing; his first name’s Sonny, he has a brother called Don and a cousin called Vinnie, and he prefers his coffee black with no sugar.


Since its first appearance in 2001, the quirky and disarming Animal Crossing has grown to encompass toys, a movie, and no fewer than four main games (or five if you count the version released for the N64 as a separate entry). All told, the Animal Crossing games have sold more than 30 million copies, and the series is still growing. In late 2017, the mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released for iOS and Android. It's a big step for the franchise, as Nintendo is famously selective about which of its series get a mobile makeover. A game once inspired by the loneliness of moving to a new town has now become one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises.


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