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Astronomers have detected water molecules in the planet’s atmosphere PiPa News

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Astronomers have detected water molecules in the planet’s atmosphere

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have detected water molecules in the atmosphere of a small, blazing hot exoplanet 97 light-years from Earth.

The planet, named GJ 9827d, is about twice the diameter of Earth, and it is the smallest exoplanet found with water vapor in its atmosphere, according to a new study.

Water is essential for life as we know it, but the planet is unlikely to host any kind of life because of the scorching temperatures that would create a water-rich atmosphere that could turn into incendiary steam.

Astronomers have yet to discover the true nature of this world’s unique atmosphere, but the revelation paves the way for further investigation as they seek to understand the origins of planets beyond our solar system.

The findings appear in a report published Thursday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Water on a planet this small is an important discovery,” said study co-author Laura Kreidberg, managing director of atmospheric physics in the department of exoplanets at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, in a statement. “This pushes us closer than ever to identifying real Earth-like worlds.”

But the planet reaches temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius), making it a steamy, inhospitable world as hot as Venus.

“This is the first time we can directly show through an atmospheric detection, that these planets with water-rich atmospheres can exist around other stars,” says study partner Björn Benneke, professor at the University of Montreal’s Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets, in a statement. “This is an important step toward determining the prevalence and diversity of atmospheres on rocky planets.”

Currently, the research team cannot say whether Hubble picked up the water vapor traces within a swollen, hydrogen-rich atmosphere or whether the planet has a water-rich atmosphere because the host star evaporated the original hydrogen and helium atmosphere of GJ 9827d. .

“Our observing program, led by principal investigator Ian Crossfield of the (University of Kansas) in Lawrence, Kansas, was designed specifically with the goal of not only detecting molecules in the planet’s atmosphere, but to actually detect water vapor,” said lead study author Pierre-Alexis Roy, a doctoral student at the University of Montreal’s Trottier Institute, in a statement. “Either result is exciting, whether water vapor is dominant or just a minor hydrogen-dominant species in the atmosphere.”

A planetary conundrum

NASA’s Kepler mission initially discovered the planet orbiting a red dwarf star in the Pisces constellation in 2017. The exoplanet completes an orbit around its host star every 6.2 days.

Astronomers observed GJ 9827d during 11 transits, or times when the planet crossed in front of its star during its orbit, over three years. The filtering of starlight by the planet’s atmosphere has helped astronomers measure the signature of water molecules.

“Until now, we have not directly observed the atmosphere of such a small planet. And we are slowly getting to this regime now,” said Benneke. “At some point, as we study the small planets, there should be a transition where there is no more hydrogen on the small worlds, and they have atmospheres like Venus (dominated by carbon dioxide).”

Understanding more about the planet’s atmosphere will help astronomers classify what kind of world GJ 9827d is. So far, the team has two possible theories.

It is possible that the planet is a mini-Neptune with a hydrogen-rich atmosphere containing water vapor. If so, GJ 9827d probably formed at a greater distance from the host star than it is today, which means that the planet was colder and the water was in the form of ice (similar to Neptune and Uranus, the most distant planets in our solar system) .

As the planet migrates closer to its star and is bombarded with more stellar radiation, the hydrogen heats up and escapes, or it is escaping, according to the researchers.

Or astronomers suspect that GJ 9827d could be a warmer version of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, with an ocean beneath its thick, icy crust. The planet is probably half water and half rock, Benneke said.

The search for water in space

Water is one of the most common molecules found in the entire universe, and for years, astronomers have included water detection as a bigger part of the search for life beyond Earth.

“Observing water is a way to find other things,” study co-author Thomas Greene, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, said in a statement. “This Hubble discovery opens the door to future studies of these types of planets with the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST will see more with additional infrared observations, including carbon-bearing molecules such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane. Once we get a total inventory of the planet’s elements, we can compare that to the star it orbits and understand how it formed.”

Astronomers have already observed GJ 9827d using the Webb telescope to look for water and other types of molecules, and that data will be shared in the future.

“We can’t wait to see what the data reveals,” Kreidberg said. “Hopefully, we can solve the question of water worlds once and for all.”

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