Astronomers have discovered a new planet that is holding water vapour in its atmosphere. They named the newly discovered planet, as HAT-P-11b. The Neptune-sized planet is the smallest planet to be discovered with presence of water in its atmosphere. Data collected from NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer; Kepler space telescopes gave the evidence of water’s presence and clear skies on the newly found planet.
“This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.”
HAT-P-11b is 120 light years far from the Earth in the constellation of Cygnus and unlike Neptune takes around five years to complete one revolution around its star. The planet is thought to have a rocky core, a mantle of fluid and ice, and a thick gaseous atmosphere.
Discovering a planet outside our solar system is difficult, and finding its constituents is even more difficult. Till now, it is known that planet has water vapour and hydrogen in its atmosphere by using a technique called transmission spectroscopy.
“We set out to look at the atmosphere of HAT-P-11b without knowing if its weather would be cloudy or not,” said Nikku Madhusudhan, from the University of Cambridge, UK, part of the study team. ”By using transmission spectroscopy, we could use Hubble to detect water vapour in the planet. This told us that the planet didn’t have thick clouds blocking the view and is a very hopeful sign that we can find and analyse more cloudless, smaller, planets in the future. It is groundbreaking!” Madhusudhan said.
As NASA is finding various planets having water on them which is most fundamental requirement for the existence of life. There are possible chances that we will be able to find life on them, in the near future.