When astronomers discovered planet GJ 1214b circling a star more than 47 light-years from Earth in 2009, their data presented two possibilities. Either it was a mini-Neptune shrouded in a thick atmosphere of hydrogen and helium, or it was a water world nearly three times the size of Earth.
Astronomer Jacob Bean used a new method called multi-object spectroscopy to analyze the planet’s atmosphere from large, ground-based telescopes. He says, "We're trying to distinguish whether it's like the gas giants we know about, or something fundamentally different from what we’ve seen in our solar system--an atmosphere predominantly composed of water."
The search for planets outside our own solar system has taken off over the last decade, and is now a growing component of the research agenda in astronomy. One estimate published in January calculated that our Milky Way galaxy alone contains at least 17 billion Earth-sized planets, with a vast potential for life-sustaining worlds.
A definitive assessment of the planet’s atmosphere could lead to a larger prize: learning how to detect potential signs of alien life on a cosmically distant Earth twin. The atmospheric signature of life on an exoplanet presumably would contain some mixture of oxygen and various other gases. Planetary scientists are conducting theoretical studies to narrow the range of possibilities.
Bean says, “The current data suggest an atmosphere predominately composed of water, but it’s not a definitive result yet. There could be even more exotic scenarios possible that we’re not able to rule out.”
And water means the possibility of LIFE in a form we would recognize. Astronomer David Charbonneau says that if GJ 1214b is a water world, "It would be very different than anything in our own solar system."
What WE want to know is, have any Visitors from there come our way? We're not sure that the Visitors are from another planet (they may be from a parallel universe), but we know they're HERE because Anne Strieber has interviewed a large group of "contactees" (in a totally unique repository of information) who have told her about their experiences IN THEIR OWN WORDS. If you subscribe today, you can listen to all of these fascinating conversations!