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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

2/23/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

More than twice the size of Earth, world dominated by water and not rock

The planet is being described as "a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere." The planet is an entirely different kind of planet dominated by water and not by rock, gas or other common materials. Researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics made the discovery after scrutinizing the planet with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

Described as a 'super-Earth,' GJ1214b is about 2.7 times Earth's diameter.

Described as a "super-Earth," GJ1214b is about 2.7 times Earth's diameter.

Article Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

2/23/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: GJ1214b, waterworld, planets, astronomy


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Dubbed "GJ1214b," the planet was discovered in 2009 by the ground-based Earth Project. "GJ1214b is like no planet we know of," astronomer Zachary Berta said. "A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water."

Described as a "super-Earth," it is about 2.7 times Earth's diameter.

Continuing studies in 2010 led to scientists suspecting that the planet, where the temperature is some 450 degrees Fahrenheit was largely covered in water. Bertha confirmed this, and his co-authors used the Hubble to study the planet when it crossed in front of its host star.

The light of the star, filtered through the planet's atmosphere, gave clues to the mix of gasses, backing up the water vapor theory.

"The Hubble measurements really tip the balance in favor of a steamy atmosphere," Berta said.

Further measurements and estimates led scientists to conclude that the planet has much more water than Earth and much less rock.

That, together with high temperatures and pressure, likely produce some highly exotic results, including "hot ice," scientists say.

Our solar system contains three basic planet types: rocky, like Earth; gas giants like Jupiter or Saturn; and ice giants like Uranus.

Some other factoids about the freshly discovered planet include the fact that GJ1214b orbits its red-dwarf star every 38 hours at a distance of 1.3 million miles. This means that the planet has a steam temperature of 450 degrees Fahrenheit. According to researchers, "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."

In addition, the planet is well-traveled - Theorists believe that GJ1214b formed "farther out from its star," then traveled inward over the course of its history, landing in the system's "habitable zone."

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