Scientists Discover "Super Earth"

Planets solar system telescope observatory CBS/AP

Astronomers have discovered a planet with a mass that's roughly six times that of the Earth, according to the journal Nature.

Reporting the discovery of the so-called exoplanet, scientists say the planet orbits a small star about 40 light years from the earth, opening up "dramatic new perspectives in the quest for hospitable worlds." Nature says that the interior of this "super Earth" likely consists largely of water ice. The planet's surface temperature is estimated to be 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Harvard researcher David Charbonneau, who was one of the scientists who spotted the exoplanet, told physicsworld.com that it likely was made entirely of water with a surface temperature of between 120 and 280 °C. While that would make things quite hot - and far above the boiling point of water on Earth - Charbonneau explained to the publication that liquid water is still available because of the planet's higher gravitational field - and thus, pressure.

At the same time, there also is the possibility that the planet has a small rocky core, which is surrounded by a water ocean and an atmosphere comprised of hydrogen and helium, the publication notes. But the research team was unable to put that theory to the test in the absence of a space telescope allowing closer examination of the planet. Physicsworld.com says that Charbonneau and his team have applied for time on the Hubble space telescope in hopes of doing such a study next year.


By Charles Cooper:
  • CBSNews

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