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NASA Finds Lots Of Water In Hot Saturn's Atmosphere: Can Exoplanet WASP-39b Host Life?

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Using Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, scientists from NASA have found fingerprints of water in the atmosphere of a hot and bloated exoplanet located about 700 light-years away.

WASP-39b

The planet called WASP-39b is located in the constellation Virgo, where it circles around a quiet sun-like Star called WASP-39.

The Saturn-mass planet is currently orbiting its host star more than 20 times closer than the distance from which the Earth circles the sun. WASP-39b makes a complete orbit every four days.

WASP-39b is tidally locked, which means that it always shows one face to its star. By day, its temperature is a scorching hot 1,430 degrees Fahrenheit. Powerful winds transport the heat from the day-side around the planet, and this keeps the permanent night-side of this world nearly as hot.

The exoplanet is called a hot Saturn, but it does not have rings. What it has is a puffy atmosphere without high-altitude clouds.

Lots Of Water

Astronomers have been detecting signs of water in other alien worlds, but what they found in this planet is lots of water.

After analyzing the starlight that filter through the hot Saturn's atmosphere into its component color, David Sing, from the University of Exeter in United Kingdom, and colleagues found clear evidence of water vapor.

They also found that the planet has three times the amount of water in Saturn, which suggests that this exoplanet formed farther out from its host star, where it was bombarded by icy materials.

"WASP-39b formed beyond the snow line in the planet-forming disk of the host star, where it likely accumulated metal-rich ices and planetesimals prior to later inward migrations to its current orbital position," the researchers wrote in their study.

Water And Life

In the search for alien life, the presence of water could mean the presence of possibility to host life. Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, for instance, is suspected capable of hosting life because of the presence of an ocean beneath its shell. Does water on WASP-39b mean there is life in this alien world?

WASP-39b may have water in its atmosphere, but its current conditions, particularly its scorching heat, mean it cannot produce life forms, at least none that is similar to those on our planet.

"WASP-39b shows exoplanets can have much different compositions than those of our solar system," said Sing. "Hopefully this diversity we see in exoplanets will give us clues in figuring out all the different ways a planet can form and evolve."

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