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The atmospheres of water worlds

Bringing some of the mysteries of the universe a little closer to home.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Tue Oct 24, 2017 2:51 am

There are currently about fifty known exoplanets with diameters that range from Mars-sized to several times the Earth's and that also reside within their stars' habitable zone – the orbital range within which their surface temperatures permit water to remain liquid. A "water world" is an extreme case, an exoplanet defined as being covered by a deep ocean, perhaps as deep as hundreds of kilometers, and among these fifty are several that might be candidates for this category. Astronomers note that at least two of the terrestrial planets in our solar system, Earth and Venus, may possibly also have been water worlds early in their evolution.

One of the critical factors in determining if a planet could really be habitable is the presence of an enduring atmosphere. The deep oceans on a water world offer a reservoir for water vapor for its atmosphere, and so scientists have been trying to calculate how stable an exoplanet's ocean and atmosphere are, especially to effects like evaporation by winds from the star. Since most of the fifty known examples orbit close to their small, host M stars, they are heavily exposed to stellar winds and related stellar space weather events even though their temperatures may be moderate.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Tue Oct 24, 2017 2:53 am

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Credit: Lucianomendez, 2011

Artist's illustration of a hypothetical ocean planet with two natural satellites. Astronomers have calculated the rates of evaporation of water from ocean planets under a variety of stellar wind scenarios, and conclude that ocean exoplanets around M stars are likely to loose their water in a relatively brief time.

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Owlscrying
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Unread post Tue Oct 24, 2017 2:53 am



NASA has found water in the atmosphere of an exoplanet more than 430 light years away from Earth.

The primitive atmosphere of Neptune-like planet HAT-P-26b is made almost entirely of helium and hydrogen, according to a NASA study published in the journal Science.

Scientists also detected water in the planet’s atmosphere, although they said it is not a water world.

HAT-P-26b tightly orbits a star 437 light years away.

When the planet passes in front of the star, scientists use telescopes to look at the starlight that passes through the planet’s atmosphere. They are then able to analyze the atmosphere’s chemical composition.

 
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