For the first time ever, astronomers have detected water in the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system:
The finding, to be detailed in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal, confirms previous theories that say water vapor should be present in the atmospheres of nearly all the known extrasolar planets. Even hot Jupiters, gaseous planets that orbit closer to their stars than Mercury to our Sun, are thought to have water.
The discovery, announced today, means one of the most crucial elements for life as we know it can exist around planets orbiting other stars.
“We know that water vapor exists in the atmospheres of one extrasolar planet and there is good reason to believe that other extrasolar planets contain water vapor,” said Travis Barman, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona who made the discovery.
HD209458b is a world well-known among planet hunters. In 1999, it became the first planet to be directly observed around a normal star outside our solar system and, a few years later, was the first exoplanet confirmed to have oxygen and carbon in its atmosphere.
HD209458b is separated from its star by only about 4 million miles (7 million kilometers)—about 100 times closer than Jupiter is to our Sun—and is so hot scientists think about it is losing about 10,000 tons of material every second as vented gas.