NASA's Hubble Reveals a steamy water world.


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Profile Michel448a
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Message 1198415 - Posted: 22 Feb 2012, 5:54:46 UTC
Last modified: 22 Feb 2012, 5:58:56 UTC

NASA's Hubble Reveals a New Class of Extrasolar Planet


The full news release story:

Observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have come up with a new class of planet,
a waterworld enshrouded by a thick, steamy atmosphere. It's smaller than Uranus but larger than Earth.

Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and colleagues made the observations of the planet GJ1214b.

"GJ1214b is like no planet we know of," Berta said. "A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water."

The ground-based MEarth Project, led by CfA's David Charbonneau, discovered GJ1214b in 2009. This super-Earth is about 2.7 times Earth's diameter and weighs almost seven 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 degrees Fahrenheit.

In 2010, CfA scientist Jacob Bean and colleagues reported that they had measured the atmosphere of GJ1214b, finding it likely that it was composed mainly of water. However, their observations could also be explained by the presence of a planet-enshrouding haze in GJ1214b's atmosphere.

Berta and his co-authors used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to study GJ1214b when it crossed in front of its host star. During such a transit, the star's light is filtered through the planet's atmosphere, giving clues to the mix of gases.

"We're using Hubble to measure the infrared color of sunset on this world," Berta explained.

Hazes are more transparent to infrared light than to visible light, so the Hubble observations help tell the difference between a steamy and a hazy atmosphere.

They found the spectrum of GJ1214b to be featureless over a wide range of wavelengths, or colors. The atmospheric model most consistent with the Hubble data is a dense atmosphere of water vapor.

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

Since the planet's mass and size are known, astronomers can calculate the density, of only about 2 grams per cubic centimeter. Water has a density of 1 gram per cubic centimeter, while Earth's average density is 5.5 grams per cubic centimeter. This suggests that GJ1214b has much more water than Earth does, and much less rock.

As a result, the internal structure of GJ1214b would be an extraordinarily different world 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," Berta said.

Theorists expect that GJ1214b formed farther out from its star, where water ice was plentiful, and migrated inward early in the system's history. In the process, it would have passed through the star's habitable zone, where surface temperatures would be similar to Earth's. How long it lingered there is unknown.

GJ1214b is located in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, and just 40 light-years from Earth. Therefore, it's a prime candidate for study by the planned James Webb Space Telescope.

A paper reporting these results has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online.

Source HubbleSite
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Message 1198438 - Posted: 22 Feb 2012, 8:34:44 UTC - in response to Message 1198415.

Anyone for a hot bath and sauna? :D

Cheers.
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Message 1198486 - Posted: 22 Feb 2012, 14:41:46 UTC

but since they always search water for the life form possibilities.... why they dont talk about that ?

even if there is maybe 10X too much water on this one, can't it hold life ?
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Message 1198502 - Posted: 22 Feb 2012, 16:23:33 UTC - in response to Message 1198486.

unlikely considering this one minor fact...

giving it an estimated temperature of 450 degrees Fahrenheit


The best extremophiles on earth can only stand about 220 F making this an almost impossible place for life
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Message 1200231 - Posted: 27 Feb 2012, 2:40:08 UTC - in response to Message 1198502.

unlikely considering this one minor fact...
giving it an estimated temperature of 450 degrees Fahrenheit


The best extremophiles on earth can only stand about 220 F making this an almost impossible place for life

Life as we know it.

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Message 1200248 - Posted: 27 Feb 2012, 4:23:34 UTC - in response to Message 1200231.

did I mention extremophile.
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Message 1200267 - Posted: 27 Feb 2012, 6:19:25 UTC

And it's only 40LY away, lets all jump into our fastest rocket and get there in a few hundred thousand years,
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Message boards : Science (non-SETI) : NASA's Hubble Reveals a steamy water world.

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