Thursday, January 2, 2014


At least that’s what scientists are now providing using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the weather conditions of an alien planet. And what did they call for? -Cloudy weather. Apparently they discovered high-altitude clouds that covered much of the planet.

Size wise the planet is somewhere between Earth and Neptune, less than 17 Earth-masses, more than Earth. Distance wise we’re talking something like 40 light years. Just a hop and a jump, really. Fortunately, Super-Earths are the most frequent sort of planet in the universe; unfortunately none exist in our galaxy. Also, their size does not say anything about their temperature and other characteristics. The Super-Earth that is being studied, that’s Gj1214b aka Gliese 1214b.

So what will all this weather talk help? Actually, their studying atmospheric conditions. The researchers (from MIT & Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) have published a paper that explores the ability of some of these Super-Earths to retain a hydrogen rich atmosphere and goes further to explain how to differentiate between the hydrogen rich and the hydrogen poor based solely on transmission spectra.

The method uses the simple fact that a hydrogen rich atmosphere would reveal certain spectral features due to water but a hydrogen poor atmosphere, one that had either lost most of its hydrogen or never had it to begin with would show no liquid ocean or even water at all and have carbon dioxide.

In order to complete this detailed study, GJ1214b was studied for 96 hours of telescope time spread-out over an 11 month period.

Researchers look ahead to an easier time a time when researching such spectral data won’t be pushing the limit of the tools at their disposal A time when the 6.5m James Webb Space Telescope transforms what becomes detectable. And then they can peer through the clouds instead of tell us that they exist. All this on a planet that is 40 light years from Earth.

Pretty good, right? My weather man can’t get the weather in New Jersey right!


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