Jon charts the northern expanses of Kepler 452b, a realm of storms and hailstones
The remarkable super-Earth Kepler 452b is serving up an enduring array of spectacle and fascination. The areas I explored on my previous two stops were rather balmy, warm and humid. This time, refreshed after a Keplerian Christmas, I’ve steered the Perihelion about 6,500km north, where the extraordinary cloud formations have similarities to those on Earth, but Kepler 452b’s greater gravity fashions them into darkly brooding slate-grey clumps.
The atmosphere appears very rich and thick in composition: the stronger gravity draws this dense atmosphere downward in a potent concentration close to the planet’s surface. It looks like I’m about to witness a particularly violent example of the weather that an atmosphere of this scale and density can create.
Looming in the distance, around 10km away, a tempestuous alien storm is brewing. We’re familiar with Earth’s cyclones and twisters, but this storm looks like an endless torrent of molten lead stretching from ground to sky. From this storm zone comes a thunderous sound, like 10,000 iron skips full of nautical chains crashing down onto granite. The deep rumble resonates in a powerfully unsettling manner, almost bringing about a sense of nausea; I’m grateful to be observing this deeply angry alien weather phenomena from a safe distance.
A series of low and broad tree-like growths cover a wide expanse in front of the storm zone. They’re squat and sturdy, lustrous green conical structures extending upwards that appear to be for capturing moisture. They’re reminiscent of some plant species we might see on isolated islands such as Madagascar or the Galapagos.
At this distance the fierce weather whips up a violent alien hailstorm. The dense atmosphere and powerful gravity fashions a downpour of hail as ferocious as an attacking Roman army. Boulders of frozen matter the size of basketballs – Cometettes I’ll name them – come hammering down. The metal shield and helmet of even the fiercest legionnaire would be scant defence against a bombardment like this.
After three hours or so, the storm gives way to calmness and the chance to observe the setting of the parent star. The density and vast quantity of atmosphere on this world, 60 per cent larger than Earth, creates the most glorious orchestra of refractions that even Instagram would fail to imitate. Deepest maroon, racing greens and shimmering lilac and orange tones beam in all directions across the sky.
Glancing at the Perihelion’s Universe clock, I see Earth’s readings presently register ‘January 2016’. As the star sets beyond this rich atmosphere it takes on the warm copper hue of a generous measure of single malt. Allow me to raise a glass to you in these early days of 2016. Wishing you Godspeed and clear skies throughout this New Year.