Waterworld Discovered but not the Kevin Costner Kind

The planet GJ 1214b was discovered a little over a decade ago, but it has only recently come to light that the majority of the mass on the planet is made up of water.  The “Super Earth” planet, as it is being called because it is only 2.68 times the radius of our planet, but is still much smaller than the giants in our solar system such as Jupiter, is said to be a “waterworld with a thick, steamy atmosphere.”

The planet orbits its red dwarf star at just two million km.  This means that it can reach temperatures above 200C.  Also, because a large percent of the planet is made up of water this means that the mass of GJ 1214b is 6.55 times that of Earth’s.

Lead author Zachary Berta, from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, stated, “GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of.” He and his colleagues use the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the planet when it is orbiting its star.  When the star is in its transit phases the team can decipher what kind of atmosphere the planet has.

The studies have determined that the planet is nearly comprised of a heavier density that is similar to water, and that it also has much more water than Earth does.  This means that not only the outer structure is different, but the internal structure of the planet could be made up much differently than Earth.

Dr. Berta believes the planet’s atmosphere would be very different from one that we experience and thinks that it might be common that, “The hot temperatures and pressures would form exotic materials such as hot ice or superfluid water.”

This planet is only 13 parsecs away from Earth, so that means there will be many occasions to fully observe it and understand it better.  For anyone wondering, a parsec is roughly 3.09 x 10^13 meters away.