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earth? outside life could

could there be life outside of earth?
Astronomers find water in the atmosphere of a warm, Neptune-sized planet

Scientists are announcing a rare look into the atmosphere of a distant exoplanet more than 400 light years away. The planet is roughly Neptune-sized and orbits close to its host star. And now we know its atmosphere contains significant amounts of water.

Significant amounts, but not quite as much as we might expect, based on what we've seen in our own Solar System. And that suggests that most of the planet's atmosphere is the original hydrogen-helium mixture that it formed with.

The planet has the catchy name HAT-P-26b, which indicates it was first found by theHungarian-made Automated Telescope (HAT) Network. It's typical of many of the early exoplanet spottings: a relatively large planet orbiting close to its host star. So close, in fact, that it takes only a bit over four days to complete an orbit. While its mass is similar to Neptune's, its radius is substantially larger, at about 40,000 kilometers compared to Neptune's 25,000.

The large size comes from two factors: there's a lot of atmosphere, and the planet's proximity to its star means that the atmosphere has expanded due to the heat. In fact, its equilibrium temperature is a toasty 1,000 Kelvin.

Water, water everywhere

That large, puffy atmosphere makes HAT-P-26b a great candidate for atmospheric analysis. From Earth's perspective, the planet transits between us and its host star. While it's transiting, it blocks some of the star's light, making its presence known. But part of the star's light also passes through HAT-P-26b's atmosphere on its way to us, and any atoms or molecules in that atmosphere will absorb specific wavelengths, eliminating them from the light that makes its way to Earth.

So, by imaging the star with and without the planet in front of it, we can detect a drop at specific wavelengths caused by their absorption in the planet's atmosphere. While this is only a tiny fraction of the total light that reaches us, the big, puffy atmosphere of HAT-P-26b makes the signal a bit easier to identify.

The large international team behind the new work obtained imaging time on the Hubble Space Telescope and found some archival images taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. Combined, the wavelengths in the data covered areas where key molecules would absorb: water, carbon dioxide, and methane.

And the results are clear: while there's no indication of methane or carbon dioxide, there are significant amounts of water in the atmosphere—the statistical confidence in its presence is over eight standard deviations. There's also some general scattering of light that indicates the presence of clouds. Of course, at these temperatures, the clouds aren't water vapor; the authors conclude they're probably composed of sulfur-based chemicals, like zinc and sodium sulfide.

But we also know the atmosphere can't be all water or the planet would be much denser than it is. So the authors conclude that it probably has a substantial amount of gas left over from the formation of the HAT-P-26 system, meaning hydrogen and helium.
Nice one @patrick .. Of course our planet Earth is just a dot among every dot in the solar system. So many stars litter the galaxy and so many planets revolve around these stars, billions of them out there. This means the Earth is just one among equal, and if possible, has superior planets.
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