This is how I imagine GJ1214b, a super-Earth discovered only forty light-years away from us, orbiting a red dwarf star in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The good news: It's three parts water. The bad news: The beaches are too hot.

400 degrees Fahrenheit, that's how hot. But still, there are signs which indicate the planet has a gaseous atmosphere. GJ1214b itself is composed mostly of water and other ices, with one fourth of it being rock. As Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' graduate Zachory Berta puts it: "Despite its hot temperature, this appears to be a waterworld. It is much smaller, cooler, and more Earthlike than any other known exoplanet."

The other good news is that it was discovered by an array of eight 16-inch optical telescopes using Apogee U42 CCDs, a kind of sensor which is used by amateur astronomers all over the world. The array is part of the MEarth Project, which monitors 2,000 red dwarves for signs of planetary activity.


The next step would be to direct Hubble to the planet—which orbits the star in only 38 hours—and analyze its atmosphere. After that, we will send Kevin Costner in a one-way spacecraft. [Eureka Alert]