Thursday, February 23, 2012

NASA finds planet consisting largely of water

NASA has been quite busy lately with discovering new exoplanets; planets that orbit a star other than our Sun. A while back, an exoplanet has shown to be a possible candidate for extraterrestrial life. The space organisation makes use of the Hubble telescope, which is located high above Earth, where it orbits our planet as a satellite. Now, NASA has announced the discovery of GJ1214b, a seemingly unique planet because it consists largely of water.

GJ1214b is classified as a 'super Earth' because its bigger than our planet, and could theoretically be a host for life forms as we know them. However, the surface temperature is around 230 degrees, which makes it too hot for us to live on. What makes it interesting is its sheer amount of water. According to NASA, its large water content makes it unique: there is no other planet we know of that looks like GJ1214b.
An artist rendering of the planet orbiting its star.
Measurements reveal that the newfound planet is about 2,7 times larger in diameter than Earth, and about 7 times heavier. It orbits a star classified as red dwarf at around 40 light years away, which actually makes it relatively close to us. It can be found in the constellation of Ophiuchus.

Weird water
It is likely that the water found on GJ1214b is rather different than what we are used to. Due to high pressure, among other things, water could be presenting itself in the form of ice, despite the high temperatures. Additionally, it can form superfluid water, a structure which makes it highly conductive and flowing more easily, as it has a lower viscosity.

It is likely that there are many more new and interesting planets left to discover. The Hubble telescope has already helped us to find many of them. Despite the fact that we know that there are billions of stars in billions of galaxies, planets have been proven harder to find. The main reason is that they do not emit light, while stars do. As of now, there are 2400 candidates that await further observations to confirm whether they are exoplanets.

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