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Water vapour in atmosphere of distant planet

    — © Guardian Newspapers Limited
    2013
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But the planet is unlikely to harbour life

Artist's rendering of HR 8799.photo: AFP
Artist's rendering of HR 8799.photo: AFP

Astronomers have detected water vapour and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere of a planet 130 light years away from Earth. However, the planet, known only as HR8799c, is devoid of methane, a gas that can indicate life, the researchers said.

The analysis used the most precise atmospheric measurements ever made of a planet outside our solar system. HR8799c is colossal: about seven times the mass of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system.

To take their readings, scientists peered at the planet through a telescope at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Through detailed analysis of the planet’s light, the team found copious amounts of water vapour and carbon monoxide, but no traces of methane.

The presence of water in the atmosphere does not make the planet a contender for life either. “There is no solid surface and it’s really hot,” said Quinn Konopacky at the University of Toronto. Surface temperatures on the planet are thought to exceed 1,000C.

Astronomers hope one day to study the atmospheres of small, rocky planets similar to Earth, but these tend to be so small, and close to their stars, that the light from them is too faint for telescopes to detect.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

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