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A cloud-free atmosphere has allowed scientists to pick out signs of water vapour on a distant planet the size of Neptune: the smallest "exoplanet" ever to reveal its chemical composition.
Previously, only larger, Jupiter-like giants have been studied in this way.
Working with three space telescopes, astronomers deduced the presence of water by measuring the colours of light the planet absorbed when it passed in front of its star.
The find appears in the journal Nature.
“Although this planet is not classically habitable, it reveals to us that when we find Earth 2.0, we will be able to use this technique, transmission spectroscopy, to understand its atmosphere and determine the quality of life available on its shores,” said Jonathan Fraine, a graduate student and first author on the study.
If cloud cover were widespread on smaller planets beyond the solar system, astronomers would need radically different approaches or far more advanced technology to probe their atmospheres. “Now we know that not all warm Neptunes form with high-altitude clouds, we can again explore the diversity of planet formation and gain greater context for our own creation,” said Fraine.
Future studies of alien atmospheres may detect proportions of gases that point to life below. On Earth, methane, ammonia and nitrous oxide are produced mostly by bacteria, while oxygen comes from plants and other photosynthesising organisms. Because the gases are not made in large amounts by anything else, they are considered “biosignatures”, or signs of life
Would'nt it evaporate?
originally posted by: Urantia1111
a reply to: IsaacKoi
I don't think it's over-simplistic at all to assume water = life. Nearly all water environments that science is aware of at this point have life of some kind. I'd be more surprised to find a Neptune-sized planet covered with water that has no life whatsoever. Exciting news!