Galactic Census: Bizarre Atmosphere Of Five Exoplanets Show Large Amounts Of Water [Video]

  • Dec, 03, 2013, 06:27 PM
Hubble Finds Subtle Signals of Water on Distant Planets
(Photo : NASA) Scientists recently detected water in the atmosphere of five exoplanets—planets outside our solar system.

Scientists recently detected water in the atmosphere of five exoplanets-planets outside our solar system.

One planet, dubbed HD209458b, had an "unusually puffed-up atmosphere" and displayed the strongest sign of water, a NASA news release reported.

The five planets discovered in two separate sweeps by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, according to, orbit nearby stars and may provide to our understanding of whether exoplanets could support life.

"We're very confident that we see a water signature for multiple planets," said Avi Mandell, a planetary scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author of an Astrophysical Journal paper, published today, describing the findings for WASP-12b, WASP-17b and WASP-19b.

"This work really opens the door for comparing how much water is present in atmospheres on different kinds of exoplanets, for example hotter versus cooler ones."

The presence of atmospheric water was reported previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, but new research identified individual atmospheres more accurately using measurements of infrared wavelength.

These planets are similar to Jupiter in size, but much hotter-thus the name "hot Jupiters".

"These studies, combined with other Hubble observations, are showing us that there are a surprisingly large number of systems for which the signal of water is either attenuated or completely absent," Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, a co-author on one of the studies, said in a statement. "This suggests that cloudy or hazy atmospheres may in fact be rather common for hot Jupiters."

The studies are part of an inventory of exoplanet atmospheres. L. Drake Deming of the University of Maryland in College Park, MD led the census.

The researchers used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to peer at exoplanets trillions of miles away and detected water signatures on them by looking at how the planets' atmospheres absorbed light. They compared their absorption profiles, including their shapes and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds, which allowed them to detect on which expolanets water was present.

"To actually detect the atmosphere of an exoplanet is extraordinarily difficult. But we were able to pull out a very clear signal, and it is water," said Drake.

By just determining which wavelengths of the nearby star's light are absorbed and which are transmitted, astronomers can find out what gases are present inside a distant planet's atmosphere.



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