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December 02, 2010

Astronomers analyze atmosphere of "Super-Earth" planet 40 lightyears away

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gj-1214-transit

Astronomers have furthered their search for an extrasolar planet that could potentially resemble Earth.

They are able to study the planets whose path takes them in front of the host star. This allows the starlight to filter through, allowing us from our perspective on Earth, to view the atmosphere.

This most recent alignment allowed us to study GJ 1214 b, a planet about 40 light-years away. It was found through spectral analysis that the planet has low absorption, meaning the planet either has a hydrogen atmosphere with high cloud cover, or it has a dense water vapor atmosphere which tightly hugs the planet.

While GJ 1214 b doesn't appear to be habitable, NASA plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2015 which could potentially scan extrasolar atmospheres for signs of life.

Posted by nealroth at December 2, 2010 10:42 AM

Comments

This extrasolar planet, GJ 1214 b is very intriguing to me, however it is fascinating that we are able to examine its atmosphere 40 lightyears away from us. It'll be very interesting to find out if new technologies will allow us to scan these extra solar planets' atmospheres for life. Even though they may seem inhabitable due to their gassy atmosphere and low absorption, we might be able to discover past life or new forms of life.

Posted by: katzbra at December 5, 2010 02:26 PM

The extrasolar planets are very intriguing, but as we've discussed in class, it seems as though we are very far from being able to detect earth-sized planets that may be habitable. Hopefully in the future the James Webb Space Telescope will be able to help find planets that could support life, but as of right now I am not sure that we have the technology to do that.

Posted by: defried at December 10, 2010 09:25 PM

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