NASA discovers a new planet class with thick and steamy atmosphere

Feb 22, 2012
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NASA has discovered a distant exoplanet dubbed GJ 1214b that is 40 light years away from Earth. The planet is dubbed a "Super Earth" because it's larger than our planet, but smaller than gas giants such as Jupiter. The planet was studied using the Hubble telescope, and the scientists believe the large part of the planet is water. The planet has very high temperatures and orbits close to the host star.

The planet temperature is high enough to suggest that there may be some exotic materials existing. The planet was originally discovered in 2009 using ground-based telescopes and later studied using the Hubble Space Telescope. The data gathered suggests that the planet orbits 2,000,000 km above the surface of its cool red-dwarf star and it the temperature is likely to reach above 200C.

The planet is 2.7 times the diameter of the Earth with a mass seven times that of Earth. Another possibility is rather than the atmosphere being made up of water, the planet could potentially be covered in a haze similar to what covers the Saturn Moon Titan. However, researchers believe that their findings suggest an atmosphere dense in water vapor rather than a haze. In fact, calculations suggest that the planet may have more water than earth. Combining high temperatures and pressure the planet could host exotic materials such as "hot ice" or "superfluid water."

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

[via BBC]


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