NewsAlert: NASA Discovers a Water World --A 'New Species' "Unlike Any Planet We Know Of"
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February 21, 2012

NewsAlert: NASA Discovers a Water World --A 'New Species' "Unlike Any Planet We Know Of"

 

            Hires

 

"GJ1214b is like no planet we know of. A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water."

Zachory Berta, astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics 

Our solar system contains three types of planets: rocky, terrestrial worlds (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), gas giants (Jupiter and Saturn), and ice giants (Uranus and Neptune). Planets orbiting distant stars come in an even wider variety, including lava worlds and "hot Jupiters."

Observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have added a new type of planet to the mix. By analyzing the previously discovered world GJ1214b, astronomer Zachory Berta (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and colleagues proved that it is a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere.

GJ1214b was discovered in 2009 by the ground-based MEarth (pronounced "mirth") Project, which is led by CfA's David Charbonneau. This super-Earth is about 2.7 times Earth's diameter and weighs almost 7 times as much. It orbits a red-dwarf star every 38 hours at a distance of 1.3 million miles, giving it an estimated temperature of 450 ° Fahrenheit.

In 2010, CfA scientist Jacob Bean and colleagues reported that they had measured the atmosphere of GJ1214b, finding it likely that the atmosphere was composed mainly of water. However, their observations could also be explained by the presence of a world-wide haze in GJ1214b's atmosphere.
Berta and his co-authors used Hubble's WFC3 instrument to study GJ1214b when it crossed in front of its host star. During such a transit, the star's light is filtered through the planet's atmosphere, giving clues to the mix of gases.

"We're using Hubble to measure the infrared color of sunset on this world," explained Berta.
Hazes are more transparent to infrared light than to visible light, so the Hubble observations help tell the difference between a steamy and a hazy atmosphere.

They found the spectrum of GJ1214b to be featureless over a wide range of wavelengths, or colors. The atmospheric model most consistent with the Hubble data is a dense atmosphere of water vapor.
"The Hubble measurements really tip the balance in favor of a steamy atmosphere," said Berta.

Since the planet's mass and size are known, astronomers can calculate the density, which works out to about 2 grams per cubic centimeter. Water has a density of 1 g/cm3, while Earth's average density is 5.5 g/cm3. This suggests that GJ1214b has much more water than Earth, and much less rock.
As a result, the internal structure of GJ1214b would be very different than our world.

"The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like 'hot ice' or 'superfluid water' - substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience," said Berta.

Theorists expect that GJ1214b formed farther out from its star, where water ice was plentiful, and migrated inward early in the system's history. In the process, it would have passed through the star's habitable zone. How long it lingered there is unknown.

GJ1214b is located in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, and just 40 light-years from Earth. Therefore, it's a prime candidate for study by the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope.
A paper reporting these results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.

The Daily Galaxy via cfa.harvard.edu and NASA

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Comments

I hope no one tells Kevin Costner about this...

LOL @ water world... LOL

I can certainly imagine complex life, comparable to what we find in Earth's oceans, living at lower, colder depths.

I think we should stay with our human race from our Lord God. We should protect our human race and maintain that forever.

I really wonder what you're doing on an astronomy website, Ricardo.

This is cool, shame the planet seems so close to its sun, with boiling waters I wonder what kind of life their is in that?

Dr.music don't be a dick Islam didn't ruin anything it's people like you

2M-clicks from its parent sun? I wonder if this planet is tidally locked? In that case, one side will be boiling hot but the other side could possibly be frozen. Then somewhere in the middle we could find liquid water of acceptable temperatures...And can you imagine the waves!

Gas giants, terrestrial planets, and now superfluid worlds...intelligent alien life would most certainly be completely different then us.

This is why it's proving so difficult for us to detect them. They're so radically different from us not only from a biological and evolutionary point, but also technologically.

oh lets not jump to conclusions until we locate that earthlike planet. I doubt anything intelligent is surviving on that planet, really any planet under a red dwarf. And I wouldn't worry about all that Ricardo lol GOD has us covered

Since the planet's mass and size are known, astronomers can calculate the density, which works out to about 2 grams per cubic centimeter. Water has a density of 1 g/cm3, while Earth's average density is 5.5 g/cm3. This suggests that GJ1214b has much more water than Earth, and much less rock.
As a result, the internal structure of GJ1214b would be very different than our world.

That's just crazy, but unlike creationist I think life could be on this planet, although it might be microbial

I think we should consider this planet hostile, just in case, and nuke it.

Hello everyone!!!

Life can not be spontaneously generated (fact), RNA is vital to the life of every cell, and cannot be made except by already living cells (fact) there's no life on that planet (hypothesized from previous facts). Life is not random (Really cool) And.. Alien movies are awesome (fact)

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Well, I hope NASA find out how to travel light years, then we would be able to go there and see if It's able to abstain human life. If it is, then mabye aliens there, as in other humans or something, because,well it's practicley another Earth. Did I spell practley wrong? Darn.

In my thought such a planet could be porous on its solid surface with rocks like pumice,hence the low density...and that would mean it probably collided with a water rich body.otherwise that planet wouldnt contain anything, its too light.or its a dying planet.

Red dwarf? If this is the only planet found in this solar system this could mean other planets are dead and this could be our solar systems case when our dear sun walks with a stick as a red giant.I can bet that this planet was never born close to its star this way but its orbit was altered by the suns decrease in energy and with time its sure going to hit that giant! I mourn for baby earth


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