SOURCE: Sky News
December 16, 2009
Astronomers have discovered a new "waterworld" 40 light years away, raising the chances of the existence of Earth-like planets.
Evidence suggests it has an atmosphere, and astronomers believe it to be more like Earth than any planet found outside the Solar System so far.
Although the planet is thought to be too hot to sustain Earth-type life, it is believed to consist of 75% water.
Planet GJ1214b is six times bigger than Earth and was discovered orbiting a small faint star 1.3 million miles away.
Although its red dwarf parent star is 3,000 times less bright than the Sun, it hugs the star so closely that its surface temperature is an oven-hot 200C.
"Since this planet is so close to Earth, Hubble should be able to detect the atmosphere and determine what it's made of."
Dr David Charbonneau, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre
Graduate student astronomer Zachory Berta, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in the US, who spotted the first hints of the planet, said: "Despite its hot temperature, this appears to be a waterworld.
"It is much smaller, cooler and more Earth-like than any other known exoplanet."
He said some of the planet's water should be in the form of exotic materials such as Ice Seven - a crystalline form of water that exists at pressures greater than 20,000 times the Earth's sea-level atmosphere.
Scientists want to turn the Hubble Space Telescope towards the planet to allow astronomers to discover its composition.
Dr David Charbonneau, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre, said: "Since this planet is so close to Earth, Hubble should be able to detect the atmosphere and determine what it's made of.
"That will make it the first super-Earth with a confirmed atmosphere - even though that atmosphere probably won't be hospitable to life as we know it."
The discovery is reported in the journal Nature.
This article: here.
Super-Earth: Astronomers Find a Watery New Planet