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Super-Earth atmosphere may be mostly water

GJ 1214b

GJ 1214b COROT-7b HD 209458b HD 189733b 

The first direct measurement of a super-Earth exoplanet's atmosphere finds the world is either shrouded in steam or covered in clouds.

"This is the first probe of an atmosphere of a super-Earth planet," said exoplanet observer Jacob Bean of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, lead author of a paper describing the cloudy world in the 2 December Nature. "It's a real big step in the direction of doing this kind of work for a planet that's potentially habitable."

The planet, called GJ 1214b, is the smallest planet yet to have its atmosphere examined -- but it's just the latest in nearly a decade of probing exoplanet atmospheres. The others have all been gas giants.

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