NASA astronomers detect watery clouds on 'hot Jupiters'

NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, have spotted several hot Jupiters containing watery clouds. Hot Jupiters are planets with the size similar to that of Jupiter, but these exoplanets are much closer to the parent Sun such that water exists in vapour form and forms watery clouds in the atmosphere. The remarkable discovery was made by NASA’s iconic Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3.

Lead study author Aishwarya Iyer, a JPL intern and master’s degree candidate at California State University, Northridge said that they wanted to examine whether these hot Jupiters share any atmospheric properties like containing water in clouds.

For the study, researchers examined a set of 19 hot Jupiters that were previously spotted by the HST and compared the weather patterns and atmospheric composition. Scientists classified them according to cloud-free atmosphere, clear atmosphere and clouds with variable thickness.

“Clouds or haze seem to be on almost every planet we studied,” Iyer said. “You have to be careful to take clouds or haze into account, or else you could underestimate the amount of water in an exoplanet’s atmosphere by a factor of two.”

Scientists say that telescopes might have detected lesser amount of atmospheric water due to the presence of clouds and hazy layers. Astronomers were astonished to find clouds among all these planets. Researchers believe that these exoplanets have potential to support life as they contain most basic ingredient water to survival of life.

Astronomers further revealed that they will examine these hot Jupiters with the upcoming James Webb Telescope which has thrice larger lens that of Hubble telescope. James Webb Telescope will take a closer look and reveal more finer details about these exoplanets.

“This paper is an exciting step forward for the study of exoplanets and comparing their properties,” said Mark Swain, study co-author and group supervisor for the exoplanet discovery and science group at JPL.

The study appeared in the Astrophysical Journal.

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