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Hubble Spots Hazy Worlds With Watery Atmospheres

NASA scientists found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets orbiting three different stars. All five planets appear to be hazy. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Mandell (Goddard Space Flight Center), and D. Deming (University of Maryland, College Park)

NASA scientists found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets orbiting three different stars. All five planets appear to be hazy. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Mandell (Goddard Space Flight Center), and D. Deming (University of Maryland, College Park)

The Hubble Space Telescope has spied five alien worlds around distant stars that show clear signs of water vapor filling their atmospheres, according to a new study. The find represents the first conclusive detection and comparison of water vapor in the atmosphere of planets orbiting nearby stars.

While they all have unromantic names like WASP-17b, HD209458b, WASP-12b, WASP-19b, and XO-1b, they also all orbit nearby stars and show signs of water vapor in their atmospheres.

These “exoplanets” are no place for life, since each is classified as a hot Jupiter—gas giants that circle very closely to their parent suns. However, clear chemical fingerprints of water vapor were detected in light reflected off their uppermost cloud decks and seen by the storied space telescope.

“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,” co-author Drake Deming, an astronomer at the University of Maryland, said in a statement.

The orbiting observatory was able to tease out the faint telltale signals of water by examining the amount of starlight that is absorbed in infrared wavelengths as it passes through the planetary atmospheres while it transits in front of their host star.

To determine what’s in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, astronomers watch the planet pass in front of its host star and look at which wavelengths of light are transmitted and which are partially absorbed.  Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

To determine what’s in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, astronomers watch the planet pass in front of its host star and look at which wavelengths of light are transmitted and which are partially absorbed.
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

“We’re very confident that we see a water signature for multiple planets,” said lead author Avi Mandell, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

What tricked astronomers into initially missing out on the fainter-than-expected water signatures was that a blanket of haze surrounds the planets, blocking the absorption lines of water from coming through. These findings now suggest to exoplanet researchers that hazy clouds may be common on worlds with water-filled atmospheres that orbit their parent stars tightly.

“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,” added Mandell.

The exoplanet watery atmosphere study was published this week in the Astrophysical Journal.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter and Facebook.

Comments

  1. Anonymous
    December 20, 2013, 6:28 am

    Having things such as this on the news at 6 does occasionally occur, but it seems traditional television news services would rather comment on deaths, robberies, other violent crime, or entertainment (like one of the Kardashians getting a nosebleed – who honestly cares?) than the wonders that go beyond our little blue jewel in the endless sea of space. It’s why I don’t bother with televised newscasts and read things like National Geographic news.

  2. Sid Hudson
    Oklahoma
    December 11, 2013, 11:19 am

    Put this on the news on six and national news it is the peoples right to know

  3. Audhora. K
    Dhaka, Bangladesh
    December 11, 2013, 3:09 am

    Hmmm… well, don’t you think the whole world should know about this? It’s something big, right?

    Locking this information in a website won’t really help to spill the word. Let this out on TV, let kids like me (I’m 11) know what’s going on!

  4. nadia-elsharawi
    December 10, 2013, 12:15 pm

    سبحان الله
    خلق وابدع

  5. Loomy
    Australia
    December 9, 2013, 3:59 am

    El Gabilon,

    Why on Earth (or off it!) would you be questioning the validity for exploration/knowledge/discovery??!!

    These things drive our species and enable our greatest successes…its why we left Africa &colonized the Planet, why we discover new places, things and concepts.

    If you want to be the Pragmatist, you should question the obscenity of War and the TRILLIONS spent on weapons and such.

    OK?

  6. Brian
    Ohio
    December 8, 2013, 9:09 pm

    El Gabilon, I agree. We should all quit any study of pure science and put all our focus to wiping out concentrated poverty, racism, corruption and ignorance. I’m sure that’s the answer. Step 1 will be cutting off your internet access and ability to preach your ignoramus perceptions. Funding pure science and understanding our origins, whether it be creation or historical fact, is essential to not repeating the past. Claiming the mafia is dumping nuclear waste is about as laughable as claiming the Neanderthal invented the microprocessor.

  7. JC
    AU
    December 8, 2013, 6:30 pm

    Babu G. Ranganathan: “It has never been shown that various amino acids can bind together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. ”

    erm.. *looks around*

  8. Mark Wallace
    USA, Greendboro, NC
    December 8, 2013, 2:37 pm

    Great, that is so true, I am pro Creator, against evolution, years ago, Mathematics said nothing is infinite, today it is,, 1972,I was sent home for the day from school, because my Science teacher said nothing propagates faster than light, I argued that he was wrong, today ,he is wrong, and I was correct, great things you are doing, keep up the good work !

  9. Novus
    December 8, 2013, 9:59 am

    We’re not sure if how many years are still left before this planet where we live in will crumble to pieces. There are many secrets that we don’t know. They may know something very very important that we don’t know. “Open you eyes and…you’ll see.”

  10. David Powell
    Philippines
    December 8, 2013, 9:10 am

    Thanks Babu, i appreciate reading about someone who intelligently looks at creation vs evolution from a scientific standpoint. The facts speak for themselves and are simple and indisputable, we don’t need the issue to be clouded by emotionalism, sensationalism or contrived theories by those who are too arrogant to accept that there can be a higher form of intelligence.

  11. claudia
    kentucky
    December 8, 2013, 7:20 am

    I simply believe that there may be other beings in every other planet, each with their own living conditions. To us on Earth, those conditions may be “un-livable,” but maybe, just maybe, those beings are adapted to those conditions.
    I also believe that we have no business nosing around into other planets when we have been destroying our own since we first set foot on Earth. We need to help our home get better, not kill it and try to run. Ppl today are.just too lazy to do even the simplest task as to RECYCLE.
    Anyway, just thought i might share my opinion here :)
    Have a great holiday!!!!

  12. Al Mahdi
    Morocco
    December 8, 2013, 12:37 am

    Unfortunately we can never visit them (with the actual technology), and even the images we got are past images …

  13. MuckrakerW
    www.globalbabbler.com
    December 6, 2013, 10:04 am

    The absorption wavelength, from the planet to the star I believe, appears to be in the visible light range. Its color looks to be light blue or turquoises perhaps. This means the wavelength λ is approximately 465 nm. That is, 4.65 x 10⁻⁷ m. From this we could determine k its wave number. Certainly we can compute its frequency, since they are related thru the equation, c = λν. Manipulating the equation to solve for ν we get the form, c/λ = ν. Moreover, from the look of the wave function the frequency appears to be high, meaning it [the star] is absorbing high frequency radiation, with an amplitude of less than one perhaps.

    As for the other visible spectrum of light emanating from the star, i.e. transmitted yellow light, λ could be about 590 nm in length, i.e. 5.9 x 10⁻⁷ m. On the other hand, its frequency appears to be very low, say, in the long radio waves range. This means it is transmitting low frequency radiation.

    Very cool illustration.

    MuckrakerW
    http://www.globalbabbler.com

  14. Yolanda
    December 6, 2013, 12:24 am

    Amazing!

  15. Ian N.
    Bozeman
    December 5, 2013, 8:21 pm

    Pearl it would be impossible to actually visit those planets! And it is possible to have friendly aliens. LOL

  16. denny
    AZ
    December 5, 2013, 8:19 pm

    Babu, you are only speculating on this occurance based on what we know at this point in time, several hundred years from now we may find new facts to support the fact that life can be created randomly, and the chances are within reason, and not 10 to the power of a very large number.

  17. El Gabilon
    December 5, 2013, 7:53 pm

    What is an example of “done better”? Did you know that the Mafia in Italy has been dumping nuclear waste from Germany into local dumps in and around Naples and that the dumping has been so great that the cancer rate has increased 20% and that in twenty years it will be impossible to live there? Then of course there is that defunct organization called the United Nations…an obscenity in technicolor.

  18. El Gabilon
    December 5, 2013, 7:49 pm

    We are more concerned about life on planet Earth! We are somewhat interested in our own galaxy and could care less about the origins of the universe. Assuming we had that bit of information of what value would it be in our daily life. To us it is obscene to spend endless hours on subjects that do not improve our life on this planet. When that has been accomplished perhaps we will have the luxury to explore the past, and planets that cannot provide a home to escape to if it becomes necessary. History has shown us that whatever our vast knowledge is today, it can be wiped out in an instant and that our posterity may have to start all over again as cave people. Then sometime in the future some scientist may conclude “you know it didn’t have to happen…they could have done better”.

  19. BDK_VLK_P-WEE
    Chicago
    December 5, 2013, 11:07 am

    True I believe dat there another type of life

    BDK VLK SQUADDD NPKK

  20. Pearl Henchell
    Pittsburgh PA 15210
    December 5, 2013, 10:31 am

    Well I hope there isn’t any actual aliens on that planet or else we are all doomed lol.

    Has anyone thought about going to this new planet and seeing what’s really on it?

  21. Babu G. Ranganathan
    December 5, 2013, 10:22 am

    HAVING THE RIGHT CONDITIONS AND RAW MATERIALS FOR LIFE doesn’t mean that life can originate by chance.

    Proteins can’t come into existence unless there’s life first! Miller, in his famous experiment in 1953, showed that individual amino acids (the building blocks of life) could come into existence by chance. But, it’s not enough just to have amino acids. The various amino acids that make-up life must link together in a precise sequence, just like the letters in a sentence, to form functioning protein molecules. If they’re not in the right sequence the protein molecules won’t work. It has never been shown that various amino acids can bind together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. Even the simplest cell is made up of many millions of various protein molecules.

    The probability of just an average size protein molecule arising by chance is 10 to the 65th power. Mathematicians have said any event in the universe with odds of 10 to 50th power or greater is impossible! The late great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle calculated that the the odds of even the simplest cell coming into existence by chance is 10 to the 40,000th power! How large is this? Consider that the total number of atoms in our universe is 10 to the 23rd power.

    Also, what many don’t realize is that Miller had a laboratory apparatus that shielded and protected the individual amino acids the moment they were formed, otherwise the amino acids would have quickly disintegrated and been destroyed in the mix of random energy and forces involved in Miller’s experiment.

    There is no innate chemical tendency for the various amino acids to bond with one another in a sequence. Any one amino acid can just as easily bond with any other. The only reason at all for why the various amino acids bond with one another in a precise sequence in the cells of our bodies is because they’re directed to do so by an already existing sequence of molecules found in our genetic code.

    Of course, once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.

    A partially evolved cell would quickly disintegrate under the effects of random forces of the environment, especially without the protection of a complete and fully functioning cell membrane. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years for chance to make it complete and living! In fact, it couldn’t have even reached the partially evolved state.

    Please read my popular Internet articles listed below:

    ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH,
    SCIENCE AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE,
    NATURAL LIMITS OF EVOLUTION,
    HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM,
    WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2nd Edition),
    NO HALF-EVOLVED DINOSAURS,
    DOES GOD PARTICLE EXPLAIN UNIVERSE’S ORIGIN?

    Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

    Sincerely,
    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. theology/biology)

    Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    * I have had the privilege of being recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who In The East” for my writings on religion and science, and I have given successful lectures (with question and answer time afterwards) defending creation from science before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities.

  22. Perk
    FL
    December 4, 2013, 9:25 pm

    “… and there is life, strange, psychotic life…”