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     Hubble Telescope used to solve an exoplanet mystery

    Extra-Solar PlanetsA survey of 10 hot, Jupiter-sized exoplanets conducted with NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has led a team to solve a long-standing mystery — why some of these worlds seem to have less water than expected. The findings offer new insights into the wide range of planetary atmospheres in our galaxy and how planets are assembled.

    Of the nearly 2,000 planets confirmed to be orbiting other stars, a subset are gaseous planets with characteristics similar to those of Jupiter but that orbit very close to their stars. Their close proximity to the star makes them difficult to observe in the glare of starlight. Due to this difficulty, Hubble has only explored a handful of these so-called "hot Jupiters" in the past. These initial studies have found several planets to hold less water than predicted by atmospheric models. The international team of astronomers has tackled the problem by making the largest-ever spectroscopic catalog of exoplanet atmospheres. All of the planets in the catalog follow orbits oriented so the planet passes in front of their parent star, as seen from Earth. During this so-called transit, some of the starlight travels through the planet's outer atmosphere. The planets' atmospheres leave unique "fingerprints" on the the spectrum of the star-light, which can be detected as the planet begins and ends its transit of the star round which it orbits.The finding from the study is that some of the planets studied have clear atmospheres, in which water can be detected, and others have cloudy ones, in which it cannot. This is determined by comparing the apparent size of the planet in infrared light, which is less scattered by dust, with the size determined from observation in the visible part of the spectrum. Thus, it seems likely that the planets with cloudy atmospheres also contain water, but it cannot be seen, due to the particulate matter.This (reasonable) conclusion clears up a problem in exo-planetary astronomy, since some hot Jupiters seemed to contain water, but others lacked, for which no explanation had been evident in theory.


    Note: NASA news: For full Story, click here.



    Associated Topics

    Astronomy

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