Astronomers are not sure what the explanation for GJ 436b’s strange orbit is, however, they suggest that the existence of an unknown, more massive planet with a strong gravitational field could be disturbing it.
The next goal for the researchers is to try and identify this hidden planet. The latest findings add to GJ 436b’s growing list of unusual features. The planet’s spectacular, comet-like tail is perhaps the most notable of these. Made up mostly of hydrogen that has been ejected from the planet’s atmosphere, the tail is around 50 times the size of the star that GJ 436b orbits.
But possibly even more intriguing is the fact that the planet may host large quantities of an exotic form of water ice, known as Ice X, which can remain solid despite temperatures on the surface exceeding 400°C. Scientists suggest that the planet’s powerful gravitational field is strong enough to compress the water to such an extent, that it stays solid, even at extremely high temperatures.