Thursday, July 12, 2007

First planet with water spotted outside Solar System

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Astronomers on Wednesday announced they had spotted the first planet beyond the Solar System that has water, the precious ingredient for life.

The watery world, though, is far beyond the reach of our puny chemically-powered rockets -- and in any case is quite uninhabitable.

It is made of gas rather than rock and its atmosphere reaches temperatures hot enough to melt steel, which means the water exists only as superheated steam.

The find, named HD189733b, is about 15 percent bigger than our Jupiter and orbits a star in the constellation of Vulpecula the Fox, according to a paper released by Nature, the weekly British science journal.

It was spotted by a team led by Giovanna Tinetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) and University College London.

As HD 189733b swung in front of its star, it absorbed part of the spectrum of starlight in a telltale way that can only be explained by the presence of water in its atmosphere, the discoverers say.

"Although HD 189733b is far from being habitable and actually provides a rather hostile environment, our discovery shows that water might be more common out there than previously thought," said Tinetti.

"Our method can be used in the future to study more 'life-friendly' environments." Link

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