Astronomers have for the first time analyzed the atmosphere of a so-called super Earth planet. The exoplanet GJ 1214b was discovered last year orbiting a dim, red star about 40 light years from Earth. It is about 2.7 time larger than Earth and about 6.5 times more massive, and astronomers estimate the exoplanet would be about three-quarters water with a solid core and an atmosphere.
But it seems the similarities stop there. The planet is so close to its star that any water would be turned to vapor, and the atmosphere should be so thick that the pressure would be immense.
Now new measurements show that GJ 1214b's atmosphere is made of either dense, ultrahot steam or a noxious, cloudy haze of hydrogen.
"Either way, it would be unpleasant if you were there," said Greg Laughlin, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved in the study.