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Exoplanet GJ 1214b is the first 'waterworld' discovered in space

The exoplanet GJ 1214b, discovered by the Hubble telescope, is bigger than our planet and made up largely of water.

Exoplanet hubble 210212Enlarge
A new exoplanet discovered by the Hubble telescope is made up mostly of water. (AFP Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

GJ 1214b, a new exoplanet, is the first "waterworld" to be discovered in space, BBC News reported

Observations made by the Hubble telescope have found that the planet has a steamy atmosphere and is largely made up of water, according to the BBC.

"GJ 1214b is like no planet we know of," Zachary Berta of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) told reporters. "A huge fraction of its mass is made up of water."

GJ 1214b is a so-called "Super Earth" because it is bigger than our planet, but smaller than giants such as Jupiter, BBC reported. It measures about 2.6 times Earth’s diameter and weighs almost seven times as much, the Daily Mail reported.

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The exoplanet orbits a red-dwarf star every 38 hours, and has an estimated temperature of 446 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius). It was first discovered in 2009 by MEarth Project, led by CfA’s David Charbonneau, and was one of the first planets where scientists detected an atmosphere, Discovery News reported.

In 2010, scientists were able to measure the planet's atmosphere, and found it was likely composed mainly of water. Recent infrared photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of GJ 1214b crossing in front of its host star allowed scientists to determine the composition of the planet's atmosphere based on how the starlight filtered through it, and led them to believe that GJ 1214b represents a new class of planet.

"The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like 'hot ice' or 'superfluid water,' substances that are completely alien to our everyday experience," Berta said.  

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Because the planet is so close to Earth, it's a prime candidate for study by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is slated to launch in 2018, according to the BBC. 

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To date, astronomers have discovered over 700 planets outside of our own solar system, with about 2,300 more "candidates" awaiting confirmation with follow-up observations, Space.com reported

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/business-tech/120221/first-waterworld-discovered-space-hubble