Tags: water | alien | planets | hot

Water on Alien Planets Found, But Likely Too Hot for Inhabitants

Thursday, 05 Dec 2013 12:41 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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Five alien planets beyond the solar system could have water in their atmospheres but are likely unable to sustain life because they are too hot, two NASA studies revealed after the Hubble Space Telescope spotted the planets.

Researchers say all the potential watery planets are the size of Jupiter, Space.com reports. The researchers added that finding the water is still a "step forward in the search for distant planets that may be capable of supporting alien life," added Space.com.

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Avi Mandell, the lead author of one of the studies looking for such water signatures on alien planets, said in a statement that finding the planets alone is encouraging.

"We're very confident that we see a water signature for multiple planets," said Mandell, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "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."

Two research teams used Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to examine starlight passing through the atmospheres of the five so-called "hot Jupiter" planets. The planets were identified as WASP-17b, HD209458b, WASP-12b, WASP-19b, and XO-1b.

The strongest signatures for water in the air came from WASP-17b and HD209458b.

"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," Drake Deming of the University of Maryland, lead author of the other recent study, wrote in a statement, according to Space.com.

In space since 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has helped researchers make discoveries about the universe, ranging from planets and stars to galaxies and cosmology.

In 2009, Hubble received a new wide field camera and a cosmic origins spectrograph by astronauts servicing it on the Space Shuttle, improving its view and its ability to see different ultraviolet lights.

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