Someone call Kevin Costner. Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered an entirely new class of planet, totally enveloped by water.
The so-called “Waterworld Planet” has a thick atmosphere and is smaller than the planet Uranus but bigger than Earth.
“GJ1214b is like no planet we know of,” said Zachory Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in a press release (CfA). “A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water.”
The planet is approximately 2.7 times Earth’s diameter and weighs just about seven times as much. It orbits its parent, red-dwarf star every 38 hours at a distance of 1.3 million miles.
Scientists estimate that GJ1214b has a steamy surface temperature of 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
CfA scientist Jacob Bean said he and his colleagues measured the atmosphere of the “Waterworld Planet” back in 2010 and found that it was composed of mostly water. However, the presence of a haze in its atmosphere could also explain their observations.
The team used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) to examine the strange planet when it crossed in front of its parent star, a process known as the “transit method”. During the planet’s transit, the star’s light is filtered through the atmosphere of the planet, giving the team clues to the mix of gases.
“The Hubble measurements really tip the balance in favor of a steamy atmosphere,” Berta said.
The astronomers said the density of GJ1214b is about 2 grams per cubic centimeter. By way of comparison, water itself has a density of 1 gram per cubic centimeter, while Earth’s average density is 5.5 grams per cubic centimeter.
The team said that due to its its density, the “Waterworld Planet” would likely contain much more water than Earth, and far less rock.
“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.
The planet is located in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus and is only about 40 light-years from Earth.
- New Type of Alien Planet Is a Steamy ‘Waterworld’ (disclose.tv)
- New Type of Alien Planet Is a Steamy ‘Waterworld’ (space.com)
- ‘Waterworld’ discovery opens door to new type of planet (mnn.com)