Large 'Waterworld' found

GJ 1214b

may not be the catchiest name, but its the first of its kind. A planet much larger than the Earth but with abundant water (albeit in the atmospher). The planet, which orbits a star approximately 40 lightyears from our solar system, is 2.7 times the diameter of our planet, but SEVEN times the weight - most of this mass is attributed to the planet's water drenched atmosphere which is similar to that.

The planet was first spotted in 2009 using ground based telescopes, but further study with Hubble has revealed some tantalising details.

The surprisingly high density of the planet is likely to lead to some unique conditions. Zachory Berta, of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said "the high temperatures and pressures would form exotic materials like 'hot ice' or 'superfluid water', substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience".

While no-one is suggesting GJ 1214b can or does support life, with recent studies hinting an abundance of planets in our Galaxy, and increasing evidence for a lot of water spread amongst these planets it is becoming less and less likely that we're alone in the universe.

Sources: BBC, Wikipedia

Image credit: David A. Aguilar, CfA

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