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Are Cloudy Exoplanets "Hot Jupiters" Hiding Atmospheric Water?

Jun 10, 2016 03:58 AM EDT
Hubble Observes An Evaporating Planet
"Hot Jupiters" might have atmospheric water hidden underneath haze and clouds. Scientists say that some hot Jupiters have water vapor and some don't. Currently, the Hubble Space Telescope is examining more hot Jupiters for possible water content hidden under the clouds.
(Photo : Alfred Vidal-Madjar/ESA/NASA/Getty Images)

NASA has equipment focused on finding Earth-like planets that can potentially cater to life.  That's how important exoplanets are. And it looks like the attention focused on exoplanets is now paying off since a new study suggests that there could be water hiding in its clouds.

The Kepler 2 telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope have contributed to the discovery and studying about 2,000 exoplanets in the Milky Way Galaxy. With a large number already identified, scientists now have ample information to study the composition and behavior of exoplanets.

A type of exoplanets called "hot Jupiters" are similar to the size of planet Jupiter are believed to possess atmospheric water. Due to their proximity to their suns, the water embedded in their clouds might be in the form of water vapors. 

These bodies are called "hot Jupiter" because they can be as hot as 2,000 Fahrenheit. According to NASA, some hot Jupiters possess water and some don't. 


Unlike other exoplanets, hot Jupiters are being studied for their composition and possible atmospheric water content and not because of their potential habitability, according to a report by the United Press International.

"Clouds or haze seem to be on almost every planet we studied," said Aishwarya Iyer, a JPL intern from the California State University, in a statement. "You have to be careful to take clouds or haze into account, or else you could underestimate the amount of water in an exoplanet's atmosphere by a factor of two."

The study suggests that due to the visible cloud formation, the Hubble Space Telescope might not detect atmospheric water. Clouds or haze might be preventing the equipment to learn more about the exoplanets. But it could also be a sign that water does exist underneath. The study detected water vapor in 10 of the exoplanets and none from the rest.

On the average, clouds or haze blocks half of the atmosphere of an exoplanet. This proved to be a challenge for scientists. "In some of these planets, you can see water peeking its head up above the clouds or haze, and there could still be more water below," said Iyer in a statement published by the Astrobiology Magazine.

Although helpful, the clouds and haze on hot Jupiters perplex the researchers saying that they are "pretty surprising". But whether or not clouds are preventing scientists to discover water on hot Jupiters, they have proven to also be helpful in the process.


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