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  • Scientists analyse super-Earth’s atmosphere

    - For the first time, a group of German and US scientists succeeded in measuring the atmosphere of a super-Earth outside our solar system. This represents an important step towards finding other planets that might be inhabitable outside our solar system.

    The team of scientists from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics analysed the light spectrum of a rocky planet 40 light years from Earth. In cosmic terms one might say that this planet called GJ 1214b is just around the corner.

    The data the scientists used originated from the Very Large Telescope from the Esa observatory in Chile. With the help of this telescope it was possible to estimate the size of GJ 1214b being 2,6 times bigger than our planet and 6,5 times as massive what astronomers refer to as a "super-Earth". At the same time, it takes GJ 1214b only 38 hours to complete a full circle around its star, a red dwarf. Scientists explain this with the fact that GJ 1214b is 70 times closer to its star than the Earth to the sun. Red dwarfs, however, have only 1/300 of our sun's radiation intensity which explains why GJ 1214b remains a solid composition of rock and ice.

    While the basics like size, consistency etc. about GJ 1214b seem to be clear, researchers are still unsure of what its atmosphere exactly consists. Three options seem to be likely. The first hypothesis is that GJ 1214b is surrounded by a dense cloud of steam that was vaporized by the neighbouring red dwarf. Another possibility is that the planet is a rocky version of Neptune with an atmosphere of ice particles and a hydrogen helium mix. The last option entails that GJ 1214b has a rocky core with volcanoes mainly emitting hydrogen and a mix of other gases to the atmosphere.

    It is therefore not decided yet of what exactly the atmosphere of GJ 1214b consists of. Clear, however, is that GJ 1214b differs significantly from all other planets scientists could observe so far outside our solar system.

    For the original publication by the science journal Nature, click here