GJ 1214b: A New Class of Planet Discovered

Many fans of NASA and the European Space Agency have probably paid less attention to the Hubble Space Telescope in recent years, but observations from the platform suggest that a new class of planet is on the horizon. With a steamy atmosphere and a watery surface, GJ 1214b orbits a red dwarf star that is 40 light-years from Earth – a distance that puts the new planet in a position to be studied by the James Webb Space Telescope. As of today, there are no other planets that have similar characteristics to GJ 1214b. This includes planets both in our solar system as well as those in myriad other star systems known to have planetary bodies orbiting them.

It seems to orbit its sun once every 38 hours, and maintains a distance of 2,000,000 kilometers from it. Future travelers probably won’t be taking too many trips to GJ 1214b however, since it has a surface temperature that’s estimated to be around 230°C. Scientists have suggested that the extreme temperature and pressure could form extremely interesting substances, however. Water that’s super fluid might very well be present on the world, and hot ice might even be present.

So far, astronomers have used the Hubble Space Telescope to obtain significant information and measurements pertaining to the new planet. With high temperatures and high pressures, the atmosphere of GJ 1214b is much steamier than the atmosphere of Earth. Apparently, the planet formed when it was further away from the star than it is now. It then slowly migrated towards its sun.

Reference:
European Space Agency (2012, February 21). Hubble Reveals a New Class of Extrasolar Planet. www.spacetelescope.org. Retrieved February 21, 2012, from http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1204/

Journal Reference:

Berta, Z., Charbonneau, D., Désert, J., Miller-Ricci Kempton, E., McCullough, P., Burke, C., Fortney, J., Irwin, J., Nutzman, P., & Homeier, D. (2012). THE FLAT TRANSMISSION SPECTRUM OF THE SUPER-EARTH GJ1214b FROM WIDE FIELD CAMERA 3 ON THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE The Astrophysical Journal, 747 (1) DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/747/1/35

Image: GJ1214b, shown in this artist’s view, is a super-Earth orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. New observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope show that it is a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. GJ 1214b represents a new type of planet, like nothing seen in the Solar System or any other planetary system currently known. Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Aguilar (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

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