Hubble Finds Water on 5 Distant Planets

Vapor detected in atmosphere, but none of the planets could support life

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 4, 2013 5:17 PM CST

(Newser) – It's seen as more of a confirmation of theory than a startling discovery, but scientists have found water in the atmosphere of five huge planets outside our solar system. A potential sign of life? Not quite, explains the LA Times. These five gas giants (or "hot Jupiters") are too close to their suns and thus way too hot for that. Still, researchers say the Hubble discovery is a "step forward" in the hunt for better-suited planets, reports Space.com. It's also the first confirmed detection of such water vapor.

"It is one thing to say these planets should have water vapor and it's another thing to actually measure it," says a University of Maryland astronomer who co-authored the study in the Astrophysical Journal. And a NASA scientist says the discovery "really opens the door for comparing how much water is present in atmospheres on different kinds of exoplanets—for example, hotter versus cooler ones." For the record, the five planets have the "unromantic" names of WASP-17b, HD209458b, WASP-12b, WASP-19b, and XO-1b, notes National Geographic.

A photo of deep space courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope.
A photo of deep space courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope.   (AP Photo/NASA, European Space Agency)
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