December 14, 2015

"Astronomers from the University of Exeter have helped shed light on the atmospheres of a group of planets which orbit stars outside our solar system, known as exoplanets."

University of Exeter Exeter academics led an international team of experts in analysing observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope.

'Their combined power gave a detailed study of the atmospheres of 10 hot-Jupiter exoplanets – the largest number ever collectively studied – in a bid to understand their atmospheres. Previously, scientists had been puzzled that they had not observed water on some of these planets – but the latest study, published in Nature on Monday December 14, has revealed that their view of the water was only obscured by haze and cloud. Although no life could ever exist on such gaseous hot planets, the presence of water has significant implications for theories over how they were formed.

'Known as “hot Jupiters”, these gaseous planets share characteristics with Jupiter. However, they orbit very close to their stars, making their surface hot, and the planets difficult to study in detail without being overwhelmed by bright starlight. Because of this difficulty, Hubble has only explored a handful of hot Jupiters in the past.

'Professor David Sing, of the University of Exeter, who led the study, said: “I’m really excited to finally ‘see’ this wide group of planets together, as this is the first time we’ve had sufficient wavelength coverage to compare multiple features from one planet to another. We found the planetary atmospheres to be much more diverse than we expected, and this significantly progresses our understanding of what makes up these planets and how they were created.”'

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