Hubble finds water-rich planet with a steamy atmosphere • Earth.com
The quest to find extraterrestrial life is closely related to the search for water in the universe and on other planets.
As one of the most abundant molecules in the universe, water is vital to all known life, serving as a universal solvent essential for critical biological reactions.
This understanding gets astronomers excited when they discover signs of water vapor on distant exoplanets.
GJ 9827d: A steamy water world
One such interesting discovery is the planet GJ 9827d. This exoplanet, which is only twice the size of Earth, may have an atmosphere rich in water.
However, with temperatures reaching 800 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to Venus, GJ 9827d is far from hospitable. It is a world surrounded by steam and not a likely home to life as we know it.
The recent observation by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope represents a major milestone in exoplanet research.
Hubble detected water vapor in the atmosphere of GJ 9827d, the smallest exoplanet where the discovery was made. This discovery moves us closer to identifying planets with Earth-like environments.
“This will be the first time we can directly show through atmospheric detection that these planets with water-rich atmospheres can actually exist around other stars,” said team member Björn Beneke, from the Trottier Institute for Exoplanet Research at the University of Montreal. .
“This is an important step toward determining the prevalence and diversity of atmospheres on rocky planets.”
Why is finding water on exoplanets important?
Laura Kreidberg of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, adds to this enthusiasm.
“The presence of water on a planet this small is a historic discovery. It comes closer than ever to characterizing truly Earth-like worlds,” Kreidberg said.
The Hubble observations, led by Ian Crosfield of the University of Kansas, were aimed not only at detecting atmospheric molecules, but specifically at looking for water vapor.
Whether the water vapor detected is a dominant or a minor component of a hydrogen-rich atmosphere, the result is extremely important.
“Until now, we have not been able to directly detect the atmosphere of such a small planet. We are slowly entering this system now,” Beinecke added.
“At some point, as we study small planets, there has to be a transition where there is no more hydrogen in these small worlds, and they have an atmosphere more like Venus’ (which is dominated by carbon dioxide).”
Discussion of the atmospheric mysteries of GJ 9827d
Two main theories have emerged regarding the atmosphere of GJ 9827d. It could be a small planet of Neptune, which maintains a hydrogen-rich atmosphere permeated with water, or a larger version of Jupiter’s moon Europa, which harbors vast reserves of water beneath its crust.
“Planet GJ 9827d could be half water and half rock. There will be a lot of water vapor on top of a smaller rocky body,” Beinecke said.
If the planet maintains a water-rich atmosphere, it likely formed far from its star, where ice was abundant, before migrating to its current, warmer location.
Instead, it may have originated near its hot star, with only traces of water in its atmosphere.
Future Prospects: Beyond Hubble’s Discoveries
The Hubble study involved observing the planet through 11 transits over three years. These transits, where the planet passed in front of its star, allowed Hubble to detect the spectral signature of water molecules in the atmosphere.
Importantly, any clouds on the planet are low enough not to obstruct Hubble’s view, allowing water vapor to be detected above them.
“Observing water is a gateway to finding other things,” said Thomas Green, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.
“This Hubble discovery opens the door for future study of these types of planets with the James Webb Space Telescope. With additional infrared observations, the James Webb Space Telescope can see much more, including carbon-bearing molecules such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane. Once we have a total inventory of a planet’s elements, we can compare them to the star it orbits and understand how it formed.
GJ 9827d in the exoplanetary pantheon
Originally discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope in 2017, GJ 9827d orbits a red dwarf star, GJ 9827, located 97 light-years away in the constellation Pisces, completing its orbit every 6.2 days.
This distant world, although no candidate for life as we know it, offers invaluable insights into the diversity and nature of exoplanetary atmospheres, bringing us closer to understanding the complexities of our universe.
In short, the discovery of water vapor on the exoplanet GJ 9827d by NASA’s Hubble Telescope is a huge step forward in our understanding of the universe.
While the harsh and steamy conditions on this planet make it inhospitable to life as we know it, the discovery opens new doors in the study of the atmospheres of exoplanetary planets, especially those similar to Earth’s. It challenges and expands our knowledge of where and how planets with water-rich environments exist.
As we continue to explore these distant worlds, each discovery like GJ 9827d brings us closer to answering the age-old question of whether we are alone in the universe and deepens our understanding of the diverse planetary systems that exist in the universe.
More about exoplanets and water
As discussed above, the discovery of exoplanets that bear signs of water represents a beacon of hope for the existence of extraterrestrial life.
These distant worlds, orbiting stars outside our solar system, have captivated astronomers and the public alike with their potential to harbor alien life forms.
Other aquatic exoplanet discoveries
The latest recent discoveries came from Hubble Space Telescope observations, which identified water vapor in the atmosphere of K2-18b, an exoplanet located in the habitable zone of its star, where conditions could be just right for the presence of liquid water.
Located 110 light-years away in the constellation Leo, K2-18b is an exciting and mysterious world, offering a glimpse into the diversity of planets in our galaxy.
Likewise, the TRAPPIST-1 system, located just 40 light-years away, includes several Earth-sized exoplanets, three of which are in the habitable zone around the star.
Spectroscopic analysis has hinted at the presence of water on these worlds, making them prime targets for future studies focused on the search for life.
Impact on our understanding of the universe
The discovery of water on exoplanets is reshaping our understanding of the universe. It challenges the idea of Earth’s uniqueness and pushes the question of extraterrestrial life from the realm of science fiction to concrete scientific investigation.
Each discovery adds a piece to the puzzle of the universe, bringing us closer to answering one of humanity’s oldest questions: Are we alone in the universe?
These explorations and discoveries embody the insatiable curiosity of the human spirit and our relentless pursuit of knowledge.
As technology advances, so will our ability to delve deeper into the universe, uncovering new worlds and, perhaps one day, evidence of life beyond our own planet.
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