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Hubble Makes First Atmospheric Study on Earth-Like Exoplanets

Jul 22, 2016 12:09 PM EDT
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Researchers are studying two exoplanets in a planetary system with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope.
(Photo : NASA via Getty Images)

For the first time, the Hubble Space Telescope peeks into the atmosphere of Earth-like exoplanets. Out of the three exoplanets discovered in constellation Aquarius, 40 light-years away, two are found to be rocky and can potentially cater to life.

The planetary system was discovered by researchers at MIT in May 2016 and on the onset of the discovery, the researchers already announced that the three rocky exoplanets might be able to sustain life due to their atmospheres. The same group of researchers delved deeper into the exoplanets and released recent findings regarding two out of the three exoplanets discovered.

The trio of exoplanets located in an environment different from Earth; some of its parts are eternally dark while some remains lit by the entire time. But the interesting thing is that two of these exoplanets have their own atmospheres and are now being studied carefully by scientists. The earth-like properties of their atmosphere surround the exoplanets, like the ones the confined other planets in the Solar System like Earth, Venus and Mars.

In a study published in Nature, it is reported that although the exoplanets may not be habitable they have attributes or conditions that might favor life and it is worth the scrutiny. The exoplanets with confined atmospheres are also found to be rocky. The study identified the exoplanets as TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, according to

The distant system has its star called TRAPPIST-1, an ultra cool dwarf star, cooler than that of the Earth's, according to Washington Post. But the presence of atmosphere is a good start in studying locations that might be able to support life.

To study the exoplanets, the researchers sought the help of the Hubble Space Telescope. "Now for the first time we have spectroscopic observations of a double transit, which allows us to get insight on the atmosphere of both planets at the same time. The data turned out to be pristine, absolutely perfect, and the observations were the best that we could have expected," Julien de Wit, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences said in a statement.

With the Hubble, the researchers were able to record combine transmission spectrum of TRAPPIST-1b and c to measure changes in wavelength when the starlight changes during transit. 

With their findings, more studies are on the works to further understand the atmospheres of the two exoplanets in constellation Aquarius in order to find out if the two can host life.


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