Unlike terrestrial planets, the super-Earth doesn't have a solid surface, making the height of the atmosphere difficult to define. Instead, atmospheric scientists introduce a concept called the scale height, a height determined by changes in the increase or decrease of atmospheric pressure by a set amount. On Earth, the scale height is about 6 miles (10 kilometers), while on Gliese 1214 b it is three times deeper, according to Narita.
"We predict that ionic or plasma water can be seen deep inside the planet," Narita said. "However, we may not be able to find hot 'ice' — high pressure-ices — inside of Gliese 1214 b."
Originally discovered in by the MEarth Project, which tracks more than 2,000 low-mass stars in search of planets, Gliese 1214 b was confirmed by the European Space Agency's High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher in Chile.
As a planet travels across the face of its star, or transits, it blocks the star's light slightly, allowing scientists to determine characteristics about it based on how much the light dims.
Though water is often considered a necessary ingredient for life by scientists, Narita doesn't think that the super-Earth will be promising due to its close orbit, which lies within the star's habitable zone, the region where liquid water can exist.
"Although water vapor can exist in the atmosphere, liquid water — namely oceans — would not exist on the surface of this planet," he said. "So unfortunately, we do not think this planet would be habitable."
Narita's team intends to continue studying the planet with spectroscopic observations in the visible wavelength, and anticipates that other astronomers will follow.
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