NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has detected the presence of water in the atmosphere of a distant exoplanet, which astronomers say is the smallest planet of its kind to reveal such a discovery.
The planet, GJ 9827D, was initially found in 2017 by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. Roughly twice the diameter of Earth and located approximately 97 light years away, the tiny exoplanet completes an orbit around its nearest star, a red dwarf, in a little more than six Earth days.
Laura Kreidberg with the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, called the discovery of water on such a small exoplanet “a landmark discovery.”
Kreidberg, co-principal investigator in the new study that revealed the discovery, said that finding water on GJ 9827D “pushes [astronomers] closer than ever to characterizing truly Earth-like worlds.”
The new discovery represents the first time that an exoplanet of this kind has been found to exist around other stars, an observation made entirely possible through atmospheric detection of water made possible by the Hubble telescope.
“This is an important step toward determining the prevalence and diversity of atmospheres on rocky planets,” said Björn Benneke, an astronomer with the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets at Université de Montréal, in a statement.
Hubble was used to observe the planet during eleven transits before its host star over three years. As the planet moves in front of its star, the light the stellar body produces is filtered through GJ 9827D’s atmosphere, which allows astronomers the ability to observe key spectra that indicated the presence of water molecules.
Right now, astronomers cannot tell whether the planet is a “water world” with an abundance of liquid, or if the atmospheric detections made possible by Hubble only point to the presence of water vapor in its hydrogen-rich…
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