Scientists find Super-Earth

December 17th, 2009 - 10:55 pm ICT by Aishwarya Bhatt  

London, Dec 17 (THAINDIAN NEWS) This is a major discovery for astronomers and scientists alike. Astronomers announced this week that they found a water-rich and relatively nearby planet that’s similar in size to Earth. It is being touted as ‘Super Earth’. It doesn’t look like that the planet will support life because its atmosphere is too thick and secondly because it is too hot to support life in the first place. But still, this discovery is important because it is being heralded as a major breakthrough in humanity’s search for life on other planets. “The big excitement is that we have found a watery world orbiting a very nearby and very small star,” said David Charbonneau, a Harvard professor of astronomy and lead author of an article on the discovery, which appeared this week in the journal Nature.

This ’super-Earth’ is orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth. And the most amazing part was that they found the distant planet with a small fleet of ground-based telescopes no bigger than those many amateur astronomers have in their backyards. Although the super-Earth is not inhabitable at all, as it is too hot to nurture life, the discovery shows that current, ground-based technologies are capable of finding almost-Earth-sized planets in warm, life-friendly orbits.

This groundbreaking discovery is being published in the 17 December issue of the journal Nature. According to the reports, a super-Earth is defined as a planet between one and ten times the mass of the Earth. The newfound world, GJ1214b, is about 6.5 times as massive as the Earth. Its host star, GJ1214, is a small, red type M star about one-fifth the size of the Sun. It has a surface temperature of only about 4,900 degrees F and luminosity only three-thousandths as bright as the Sun. GJ1214b orbits its star once every 38 hours at a distance of only 1.3 million miles. Astronomers estimate the planet’s temperature to be about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Although warm as an oven, it is still cooler than any other known transiting planet because it orbits not a very bright star.

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