Small Swiss observatory finds ice planet

 GENEVA, May 16 (Xinhua) — An observatory in southern Switzerland has detected the first planet made of ice, Swiss Radio International (SRI) reported on Wednesday.    Located outside the solar system it is about the same size as Neptune, according to the report.

    The find was made by a team of four astronomers from the St. Luc observatory in canton Valais and Geneva University.

    “It’s really the first time that we’ve found the transit of such a small planet and the first time we know precisely the mass and the size of a planet that’s not a giant gaseous one,” Frederic Mallmann, head of the observatory, told SRI.

    “It’s the first sort of ocean planet that has ever been found and it’s a great step toward (finding) other planets that resemble Earth,” he added.

    Using a 24-inch telescope, the team measured the light coming from a star 30 light years away, which is not very far in astronomical terms. Team members found it was dimmed a little for about an hour, meaning that this was the time when the planet was passing in front of its star.

    “It’s a planet with a radius four times that of the Earth. It’s orbiting very close to its star — a few million km, so it’s a very hot planet made mainly of hot ice with a temperature of more than 300 degrees,” Mallmann explained.

    Hot ice is a situation in which under very great pressure water stays like ice. It cannot be found naturally on Earth but has been made in laboratories, he added.

    The planet already has a name or rather a number — Gliese 436 b. One of the smallest extrasolar planets, it was discovered orbiting the star Gliese 436 in 2004. An orbit takes less than three days. 

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