Sunday, July 15, 2007

Water Worlds Outside our Solar System

Last Wednesday, scientists announced that they'd spotted the first planet beyond the solar system that has water--the precious ingredient for life as we know it. Only one hitch, though...This watery world, about 15% bigger than Jupiter, has an atmosphere whose temperature is hot enough to melt steel. Which means that the water exists only as superheated steam.

The planet, imaginatively named HD189733b was identified by a team led by Giovanna Tinnetti of the European Space Agency (ESA) and University of College London, and orbits a star like our sun in the constellation of Vulpecula the Fox, according to an article in Nature. As the gas giant "swung in front of its star, it absorbed part of the spectrum of starlight in a telltale way that can only be explained by the presence of water in its atmosphere," said the Discovery Channel News.

Worlds like HD189733b are called extrasolar worlds or exoplanets: planets that show a "wobble" in light as seen from Earth as the planet swings around its star. Exoplanets were first spotted in 1995; there are 245 of them so far, according to the Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia and the tally is growing at the rate of 3-4 a month.

Tinetti contends that, "Although HD189733b is far from being habitable and actually provides a rather hostile environment, our discovery shows that water might be more common out there than previously thought...Our method can be used in the future to study more 'life-friendly' environments."

More on this in my next post...

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

Can't people come up with decent names for new planets? What happened to imagination?

Modern Matriarch said...

Raises her fist and curses the scientific community for stealing the ancient hereditary name HD189733b. I suppose I can always name my next offsping HD189733b.2. Eat your heart out Dewy Decimal.

sfgirl said...

LOL!!! And that was just its nick-name!

Kev said...

Certainly is a very exciting part of science, although I always wonder, what will they do when they find a life-friendly planet? Perhaps one day when we are able to get there, it will prove to be a worthwhile task.