New ’super-earth’ 40 light years away might have waterDecember 3rd, 2010 - 8:21 pm ICT by IANS
London, Dec 3 (IANS) A planet, which is 2.6 times bigger than Earth and orbiting a star 40 light years away, possibly has water in the form of steam, research suggests.
The planet has given scientists their first chance to analyse the atmosphere of a world outside the solar system.
Astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-metre telescope in Chile discovered possible evidence of water in the form of steam shrouding the planet, reports the journal Nature.
Alternatively, the planet could have a mostly hydrogen atmosphere hidden beneath high clouds or hazes, as seen on Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan, according to the Daily Mail.
Jacob Bean, who led the research team, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts, US, said: “This is the first super-earth to have its atmosphere analysed. We’ve reached a real milestone on the road toward characterising these worlds.”
The planet lies in the constellation of Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer. Since it hugs its parent star at a distance of only two million kilometres, 70 times closer than the Earth is to the Sun - conditions on its surface are hot,” Bean said.
The astronomers carried out their study by analysing light coming from the star as the planet passed in front of it. The planet travels across the disc of its parent star once every 38 hours as it orbits.
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