Water vapor detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

Water vapor detected in the atmosphere of an exoplanet

New Year's Day arrives once every 47.5 hours on the exoplanet TOI 674b, astronomers have now noticed hints of water floating in its atmosphere. Observing the signature of water on planets distant from our ocean world is exciting for a variety of reasons, not least in telling us how unique our planet can be.

Having a breakdown of the types of gases in the atmosphere of an exoplanet, especially water vapor, is like having the details of its cosmic birth certificate, giving planetary scientists a clearer understanding of how and where it formed in its solar system. Planets that form beyond a point where the star's radiation can easily sublimate the ice into gas will have a much better chance of holding water, for example, increasing the chances that a short-orbiting Neptune with a lot of water is far from its own. place of birth.

The next step will be to collect more data on the precise amount of water in the atmosphere of TOI 674b, as well as other characteristics, such as its metallicity. The planet has only been on our radar for about a year, following its discovery using data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey.

Artistic illustration of one of the exoplanets of the TRAPPIST-1 system. Credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech

But it has already proved interesting enough for researchers to turn other instruments, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, to the planet to probe its secrets. (The team also looked at older data from the now retired Spitzer Space Telescope.)

At about half the mass of our Sun, the M-class red dwarf star, around which it orbits, is not particularly bright, which means there is enough light to see the planet, but not so much for it to get lost in the glare. Better yet, at a distance of only 150 light-years away, the entire planetary system is more or less within reach.

An instrument perfectly suited to studying exoplanets like this is the James Webb Space Telescope recently launched, with a design that will give us an unprecedented view of distant stars and their planets. Knowing how TOI 674b fell into such a warm embrace with its star will help us fill the bigger picture of how other solar systems evolve and whether ours is boringly normal or a unique gem in an ocean of chaos. >

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