WEATHER

Clouds discovered on super-Earth planet in another solar system:

The planet in question is known as GJ1214b (a.k.a. Gliese 1214b) – a super-Earth type planet. Super-Earths are extrasolar planets that have masses intermediate between that of Earth and smaller gas giants, such as Neptune, which is around 17 Earth masses. Generally, super-Earths are almost exclusively classified by their mass, with the term offering no insight into a particular planet’s temperature, composition or environment, relative to Earth.

Recent exploration of planets around other stars (exoplanets) has demonstrated that super-Earths, including GJ1214b, are some of the most frequent types of planets within the Milky Way galaxy. However, since no super-Earth planets exist within our Solar System, much is to be gleaned about their physical characteristics.

With this in mind, studies are beginning to turn towards investigation of the atmospheric conditions of these planets.

Read the whole thing — fascinating stuff.

It of course made me think of last month’s story about possible FTL travel being studied at NASA. I had the chance a couple weeks ago to discuss this very thing with Robert Hoyt, who knows four times as much about the physics involved than I do, despite being half my age. And he understands them eight times better.

What I took away from our conversation was this. The theory behind NASA’s new study is nothing new — it’s been around for decades. Problem was, it was believed that in order to produce enough energy to generate warp fields big enough to move a small starship to a different system, you’d need to explode a mass the size of Jupiter. And turning all that mass into energy would of course also knock our own solar system out of alignment like a good break in a game of nine ball.

But nobody had ever bothered before to optimize the original math.

Turns out, you can generate enough energy with just 1,600kg mass, blowing up real good. For perspective, the Hubble telescope masses 11,110kg. In other words, we already have more than enough lift power to get what we need where it needs to go. What we need now is the orbital construction facility to build a ship.

Because if we really want to find out what the weather is like on GJ1214b — let’s go!