By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has found evidence of water in the atmospheres of five exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System). However, don’t expect little green men to wave at us from these ultra-heated, Jupiter-sized planets. Their hostile conditions do not support life! That said, the discovery is still a hopeful sign that there may be other less fiery planets with water… and living beings.
Avi Mandell, a research scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said, “We’re very confident that we see a water signature for multiple planets. 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 new planets, called WASP-12b, WASP-17b, WASP-19b, HD209458b, and XO-1b, orbit their suns in a locked position. Basically, one side is always facing the sun, blasted by solar rays. Then, the heat is spread across the planet by winds that fiercely blow faster than the speed of sound! “They are very violent places,” said L. Drake Deming, a University of Maryland astronomer who studied the exoplanets. No kidding!
Because planets are significantly less bright than stars, it’s hard to spot them. So, scientists indirectly locate them by studying the way light moves around them. For example, water molecules absorb light in unique ways that can be picked up on by the Hubble Space Telescope. While these newly discovered planets don’t support life, Deming explains, “The James Webb Telescope would allow us to extend these measurements to habitable Earth-like planets, maybe twice as big as Earth, and in the habitable zone where water could condense.”
Images courtesy of NASA Goddard on YouTube.