Hubble Reveals a New Type of Planet
See Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Release No.: 2012-04
Cambridge, MA - 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.
...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.
A paper reporting these results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online....
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