Astronomers have made an interesting discovery of water vapor in an alien planet’s atmosphere, an alien planet that also happens to be one of the first exoplanets ever discovered. This water vapor discovery joins the likes of other amazing discoveries astronomers have been able to make as space exploration technology becomes more advanced. So far they’ve been able to find a planet that rains diamonds, one that is made of diamonds, asteroids that travel with their own moons, and that Mars had falling snow in one point of time, just to name a few.
The planet with the water vapor is known as Tau Boötis b, originally discovered back in 1996. It was one of the first alien planets ever discovered by astronomers. The planet is approximately 51 light years away, making it one of the closest known exoplanets to Earth. It is classified as a “hot Jupiter,” meaning it is a gas giant located close to its sun. When researching the planet’s light through the Near Infrared Echelle Spectograph (NIRSPEC) – an instrument that separates different colors of light – astronomers at Keck Observatory in Hawaii were able to decipher a wavelength of light that belonged to atmospheric water vapor. The color associated with the glow of Tau Boötis b atmosphere matches up with the glow of water vapor. Astronomers previously used a similar technique to discover carbon monoxide in the planet’s atmosphere.
Caltech professor Geoffrey Blake took notice that the NIRSPEC’s discovery capability is currently limited to giant planets that closely orbit a bright star, future telescopes will expand that discovery capability and with their advanced technology, be able to analyze planets cooler in temperature, and farther from their star. Until this happens, NIRSPEC is doing quite well with making new exciting discoveries such as water vapor present on an exoplanet.