Before you dust off your interstellar suitcase, you are going to want to read about the three new exoplanets. Astronomers have been using the Hubble Telescope for years to find traces of water vapor in the atmosphere of exoplanets. The idea is that water could equal life.
The trio that they have analyzed and announced today came back surprisingly dry. I’m sure California feels your pain HD 189733b. The other two are dubbed HD 209458b and WASP-12b. At least one has a pretty interesting name. All three orbited a star similar to our sun, and that’s why they received the special treatment in looking for signs of water.
Using a theory regarding planetary formation, it was thought that all three would have more water than it turned out. Of course with temperatures averaging between 1,500 degree and 4,000, it wasn’t like we would be visiting anytime soon.
A statement from Niku Madhusudhan of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge talked about the findings. “Our water measurement in one of the planets, HD 209458b, is the highest-precision measurement of any chemical compound in a planet outside our solar system, and we can now say with much greater certainty than ever before that we’ve found water in an exoplanet. However, the low water abundance we have found so far is quite astonishing.”
The results call into question when searching for water on what astronomers call Super-Earths. We may be faced with finding significantly less water than previous planetary models suggested.
Drake Deming of the University of Maryland released a statement on how we will have to reevaluate water prediction models. “There are so many things we still don’t know about exoplanets, so this opens up a new chapter in understanding how planets and solar systems form. The problem is that we are assuming the water to be as abundant as in our own solar system. What our study has shown is that water features could be a lot weaker than our expectations.”
The process by which astronomers find water via the Hubble is using the near-infrared spectrum. Using ground based telescopes makes this impossible due to our own water vapor filled atmosphere. It distorts the image and throws any findings into question.
So, while we may not have found our second home, scientists are working to refine models to one day find life or an Earth-like planet.