NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have discovered the water in the atmosphere of a hot, Saturn-mass exoplanet some 700 light-years away. Quite a lot of water in the vapour state is found in the exoplanet. The planet, called as WASP-39b, or ‘hot Saturn’ has three times more water than Saturn.
“We need to look outward so we can understand our own solar system,” explained lead investigator Hannah Wakeford of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the University of Exeter in Devon, United Kingdom.
Though no planet like this exists in our solar system, WASP-39b can provide new insights into how and where planets form around a star, the researchers stated. WASP-39b is exclusive, it underlines the fact that the more the astronomers discover about the complexities of other worlds, the better they learn about the origins of these worlds.
While the researchers anticipated that water would be available, but were amazed by the amount of water that they found. It is presumed that since WASP-39b has so much more water as compared to Saturn, it must have formed differently. The amount of water advocates that the planet actually developed far away from the star, where it was bombarded by a lot of icy material.
Using Hubble and Spitzer, Wakeford and her team had captured the most complete spectrum of an exoplanet’s atmosphere possible with present-day technology. “This spectrum is thus far the most beautiful example we have of what a clear exoplanet atmosphere looks like,” said Wakeford.
“WASP-39b shows exoplanets can have much different compositions than those of our solar system,” said co-author David Sing of the University of Exeter in Devon, United Kingdom. “Hopefully this diversity we see in exoplanets will give us clues in figuring out all the different ways a planet can form and evolve.”
WASP-39 which is located in the constellation Virgo looks like a Sun-star and becomes visible once every four days. It is presently positioned more than 20 times closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun. It is tidally locked, which means it always shows the same face to its star.
Its day-side temperature is a scorching 1,430 degrees Fahrenheit (776.7 degrees Celsius). Strong winds transport heat from the day-side around the planet, keeping the permanent night-side almost as hot.
Wakeford hopes the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch next year in 2019 will help to get an even more complete spectrum of the exoplanet. It will be able to give information about the planet’s atmospheric carbon, which absorbs light at longer, infrared wavelengths than Hubble is able to see. By understanding the amount of carbon and oxygen in the atmosphere, scientists can learn even more about where and how this planet was formed.