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Signs of water detected on planet outside our solar system, says astronomer

Finding ‘does not answer questions about the existence of extraterre­strial life’

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Evidence of water has been detected for the first time in a planet outside our solar system, an astronomer said on Tuesday, a tantalisin­g find for scientists eager to know whether life exists beyond Earth.

Travis Barman, an astronomer at Lowell Observator­y in Flagstaff, Arizona, said water vapour has been found in the atmosphere of a large, Jupiter-like gaseous planet located 150 light years from Earth in the constellat­ion Pegasus. The planet is known as HD 209458b.

Other scientists reported in February that they were unable to find evidence of water in this planet’s atmosphere, as well as another Jupiter-like planet.

“I’m very confident,” Barman said in an interview. “It’s definitely good news because water has been predicted to be present in the atmosphere of this planet and many of the

“It’s definitely good news because water has been predicted to be present in the atmosphere of this planet and many of the other ones for some time.”

other ones for some time.” Lowell Observator­y, a privately owned astronomic­al research institutio­n, announced the finding, which has been accepted for pub- lication in the Astrophysi­cal Journal. The research was backed by Nasa, it said.

The detection of the presence of water vapour was possible because this planet, from the vantage point

Travis Barman

Astronomer

of Earth, orbits directly in front of its star every 3-1/2 days, allowing crucial measuremen­ts to be made. It is what is known as a transiting planet.

Scientists searching for signs of life beyond Earth are keen to learn about the presence of water on other planets — both in and beyond our solar system — because water is thought to be fundamenta­l to the existence of life.

Barman noted that a Jupiter-like gaseous planet such as this one, as opposed to a rocky one like Earth, is highly unlikely to harbour life, and said the finding about water vapour in its atmosphere does not answer one way or another questions about the existence of extraterre­strial life.

The findings, he said, “are not adequate to really address a question as deep and profound as the existence of life elsewhere.”

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