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Nearby alien planet may have Earthlike oceans of water

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 5th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Scientists have discovered that an Earth-like planet just 40 light years away is rich in water. The discovery was made using a technique that could help us detect signs of life on distant planets.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The planet Gliese 1214b is just 40 light years away and apparently has a water-rich atmosphere, which means it has plenty of water a prerequisite for life, as we know it.

Gliese 1214b is a "super Earth" meaning it is larger than our planet, in this case as much as 2.7 times larger. That probably makes the planet unsuitable for human habitation, since gravity would exert more much force on your body than on Earth, however the planet now becomes a candidate for life, and one day, in the distant future, could serve as a waystation for spacefaring humans.

Scientists have known about the planet since 2009. Recently a Japanese team used the Subaru Telescope to catch a phenomenon called "Rayleigh Scattering" and determine the composition of its atmosphere. This phenomenon is the result of light particles being scattered by molecules in the planet's atmosphere. Scientists can now detect this scattering of light and analyze it to determine the composition of the planet's atmosphere.

This method, once perfected, may reveal the first signs of life outside of our solar system. If scientists detect a planet with complex molecules that cannot be naturally explained, then it would be an indicator that life is present.

Likewise, any alien astronomers using the same technique on Earth would know of our presence because of the complex cocktail of pollutants in our atmosphere.

Although scientists are fairly certain Gliese 1214b has water vapor in its atmosphere, much like Earth does, they still need to confirm their results. They will do this with follow-up observations and by comparing their work with those of other teams also studying the planet.

That they have discovered a planet covered mostly with water is news to most people, however it is no great surprise to astronomers. Hydrogen and oxygen both are abundant elements in the universe with hydrogen being the most abundant by far. Naturally, these elements combine making water very common in the universe.

Earth, for example, has water covering about two-thirds of its surface. Astronomers believe that water arrived here after the Earth's creation, delivered by comets which are rich in water ice.

Of course, getting to all that water on Gliese 1214b will not be easy, and even under the most optimistic scenarios, it will probably be centuries, if ever, before humans can get to any significant extraterrestrial water supplies, so we had better take care of what's been provided for us here, on Earth.

While we may not live on a "super Earth" this is still the only Earth we've got, so we had better take care of the air and water that's here, right now.


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