NASA Peeks into Atmosphere of Exo-Planet

Scientists have looked into the atmosphere of a distant world - and made some initial determinations as to what that could mean for the planet. Image Credit: NASA

A group consisting of astronomers (including two NASA Sagan Fellows), has made the first evaluation of a super-Earth’s atmosphere by using a telescope on the ground. Super-Earth’s are planets that range in size of up to three times the size of Earth and they can weigh up to 10 times as much. These finding were detailed in the journal, Nature. This discovery is a very important milestone on the path to eventually being able to unveil the atmospheres of planets that are somewhat similar to Earth. 

If everything works out is research may eventually discover signs of life. 

The team has found that the planet, GJ 1214b, is either covered by a thin layer of steam or it is surrounded by a layer of thick, high clouds. If it’s steam, the planet would more than likely be an ice-world. If it turns out that it is clouds, this world could be terrestrial in nature, somewhat similar to our own. It might also be like the planet Neptune, albeit smaller. 

“This is the first super-Earth known to have an atmosphere,” said Jacob Bean, a NASA Sagan Fellow and astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “But even with these new measurements, we can’t say yet what that atmosphere is made of. This world is being very shy and veiling its true nature from us.”

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