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article imageScientists find subtle signals of water on five hot Jupiters

By Sonia D'Costa     Dec 4, 2013 in Science
Two teams of NASA scientists have discovered faint traces of water signatures in the atmospheres of five hot Jupiters while scanning the skies through the Hubble Space Telescope. The five exoplanets orbit stars located in the neighborhood of our galaxy.
The study was conducted as part of a census of exoplanets atmospheres headed by L. Drake Deming of the University of Maryland in College Park.
The five exoplanets are called "hot Jupiters" because they bear a striking similarity to Jupiter and are hot because of their proximity to their stars. The hot Jupiters recently studied by the NASA teams are WASP-17b, WASP-12b, XO-1b, WASP-19b, and HD209458b. Scientists noticed that the strength of the water signature of each exoplanet varied from the others.
Avi Mandell, a planetary scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in NASA, said: “We’re very confident that we see a water signature for multiple planes. 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 scientists used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to learn more about how the atmospheres of these exoplanets absorbed light. They studied the absorption profiles in detail before coming to the conclusion that the planets' atmospheres contained water.
While admitting that detecting the atmospheres of exoplanets is not an easy task, Deming stated that they had received “a very clear signal, and it is water.” The water signals, however, were not as intense as the scientists expected, and they feel that this is because the five exoplanets are covered by a blanket of dust or haze, which can considerably reduce intensities of signals from their atmospheres.
This is not the first time scientists have found evidences of water on exoplanets, but the recent study is more accurate as infrared wavelengths were used in measuring the signals.
The tendency to jump to the conclusion that water on a planet is indicative of life is quite common. Unfortunately, traces of water in an exoplanet’s atmosphere need not necessarily mean that planet is host to living beings. In fact, the surface of a hot Jupiter is too hot to support any life form.
More about Hot jupiter, water signature, NASA, Hubble telescope
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