The scientists’ constant search of extraterrestrial life in our universe has encountered another hindrance, as water detection on exoplanets proves to be more difficult than originally thought. The importance of water stems from the fact that without it, the building blocks of life cannot develop a process of actually creating a suitable environment for microbial life.
The realization that original findings concerning water on exoplanets might be inconclusive came through the use of the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes from NASA in the study of 10 Jupiter-sized exoplanets. Because of their close proximity to the star they are orbiting, these planets have a high-temperature atmosphere, distorting their image as well as the readings scientists make on Earth.
In accordance with their high temperature, it was already expected that the planets in question would have a low amount of water, but the findings prove that these numbers are even lower than those originally predicted. This urges astronomers to remake the current atmospheric models that focus on composition and the percentage of water.
The process of cataloguing the Jupiter-like gaseous exoplanets was made through the use of a spectroscopic reading. By analyzing the image seen through the telescope in comparison to the infrared and radiation readings of the planets, scientists were able to create a more conclusive spectroscopic catalogue of atmospheres.
The correlation between the appearance of a planet and its faint water signatures was achieved by identifying the difference in size seen through both imaging techniques. Because starlight is refracted by cloudy atmospheres, the exoplanet appears to be bigger than the size seen through infrared readings.
This is the first time astronomers were able to make this comparison due to the advancements in technology we currently possess. The multitude of wavelength features covered by this catalogue allowed researchers to see the complexity of atmospheres portrayed by each exoplanet by comparing them to one another.
The atmospheres in question, both upper and lower, have surprised scientists because, up to this point, it was believed that planets have only a few differences between themselves from this point of view. This created a rather simple atmospheric model, stemming both from the lack of technology we had when the model in question was constructed as well as the information we possessed.
Even if the study of exoplanetary atmospheres is still only in its first stages, this will change in the near future with the arrival of the new James Webb Space Telescope. Through the use of this new infrared telescope, scientists will be able to see if either the idea of dry and hot Jupiter-like exoplanets still stands, or if they have to rethink the entire way they view planetary evolution.
Despite the fact that water detection on exoplanets proves to be more difficult than originally thought, this will not stop astronomers worldwide in their search of possible life giving planets. If exoplanets actually hide their watery surface through the use of their cloudy atmosphere or if they are just simply devoid of water altogether, only further inquiries and studies will tell.