Scientists Reveal Exoplanets Are Not Dry, Likely Hiding Water In Clouds

Posted: Dec 15 2015, 2:48am CST | by , Updated: Dec 15 2015, 10:08am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Mystery Solved: Exoplanets are not Dry, Likely Hiding Water in Clouds
Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA

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The largest and most detailed survey of ten Jupiter-sized exoplanets helped provide explanation for the missing water mystery.

Scientists have discovered hundreds of planets in outer space but most of them appear gaseous and showed no signs of water. It made them believe that these worlds orbiting other stars are seemingly deprived of water.

Now, scientists have found that those exoplanets are not dry after all. They have water in their atmosphere which may be obscured by clouds and haze.

Scientists have conducted a large and detailed study of ten hot exoplanets, which are also called hot Jupiters due to their resemblance with planet Jupiter. Very few hot Jupiters has been detected in the past. They orbit very close to their stars, making their surface extremely warm and difficult to study because of the bright starlight.

In the latest study, researchers combined the observations of two of the most powerful space telescopes Hubble and Spitzer and found traces of various elements and molecules including water. This is the largest ever study so far about the exoplanets atmosphere and it helped provide a possible explanation for their missing water.

“…This is the first time we’ve had sufficient wavelength coverage to be able to compare multiple features from one planet to another,” said lead author David Sing from University of Exeter. “We found the planetary atmospheres to be much more diverse than expected.”

When a planet passes in front of its host star, it scatters starlight in planet’s outer atmosphere, which is observable from the Earth.

“The atmosphere leaves its unique fingerprint on the starlight, which we can study when the light reaches us.” Hannah Wakeford, co-author of the study said.

The fingerprints allowed researchers to solve the planet’s missing water mystery and suggested that water may be hidden in thick clouds and hazy atmosphere of planets.

“The alternative to this is that planets form in an environment deprived of water – but this would require us to completely rethink our current theories of how planets are born,” said co-author Jonathan Fortney. “Our results have ruled out the dry scenario and strongly suggest that it’s simply clouds hiding the water from prying eyes.”

Source: NASA JPL

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