Their Planet

The rocky surface of the planet is covered in a dense, hot haze. There are no continents and no oceans; instead, the surface is dotted with medium-sized islands in large lakes, and medium-sized lakes in large islands, and areas where the water and land are patched together like puzzle pieces and it’s hard to say what is inside of what.

But the water is never too deep. The planet is scalding hot, and most of the water is in the atmosphere in the form of water vapor. In fact, on most rocky planets orbiting this close to their sun, the water would all have boiled off the surface and into the air. This planet, however, is enormous and dense, creating pressures just strong enough to keep the water on the surface liquid, and the air above it so humid that you wouldn’t be able to see more than three feet in any direction. You might even be tempted to call it “Swamp Planet”, if you ever were unfortunate enough to be stranded there.

Scientists on earth, however, call it GJ-1214b. They have not given it catchy, memorable name (like “Swamp Planet”) because they haven’t learned enough about it to think it deserves one. They are not likely to learn enough any time soon: the planet orbits a red dwarf star 40 light-years from earth, and earth scientists only know it exists because of a slight wobble in the star’s movement and the spectrographic signatures they see in the star’s light every time the planet passes in front of it.

What earth scientists know, based this scant evidence, is that Planet GJ-1214b is about three times the size of earth and six times the mass. It has a dense atmosphere made up primarily of nitrogen, methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor. The planet’s orbit keeps it so close to its red dwarf sun that it is incredibly hot. Between the heat, the gravity, and the fact that most of the liquid water is confined to shallow muddy pools and ponds dotting the surface, earth scientists do not consider GJ-1214b to be a candidate for extraterrestrial life.

Jacob Bean, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has spent a great deal of time studying GJ-1214B, has stated bluntly: “This planet has basically no potentiality for habitability.”

Dr Bean, however, is wrong.