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A Saturn-size gas giant exoplanet orbiting close to its star has three times as much water in its atmosphere as Saturn itself, researchers have found. The surprising find will improve our understanding of where planets form around a star, NASA officials said in a statement.
No one expected to see so much water on the planet, called WASP-39b, because it is a "hot Saturn" — a Saturn-size planet that is extremely close to its parent star. WASP-39b is roasting away at 0.05 Earth-sun distances (astronomical units) from its sun-like star. That's about eight times closer than Mercury is to our own sun in the solar system, or 20 times closer than the Earth is to the sun.
Conditions - Water - Planet - Data - Hubble
Despite these challenging conditions, water does persist on the planet, according to new data from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. The water in WASP-39b's atmosphere suggests that the planet must have formed farther away from its parent star that it currently is located, where a greater amount of icy material was available. It has "an interesting evolutionary history," NASA officials said — as it moved closer to its star, it could have disturbed (or even destroyed) other planetary objects.
Astronomers examined data from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to learn about the atmosphere of the Saturn-size planet WASP-39b, getting the most complete spectrum of its atmosphere currently technologically possible. The researchers found a surprising amount of water in the planet's atmosphere — three times as much as on Saturn.
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