ESO/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger
An artist's impression of the exoplanet 51 Pegasi b
Astronomers have discovered that there are water molecules in the atmosphere of an exoplanet known as 51 Pegasi b, or 51 Peb b for short.
The planet is some 50 lightyears away from Earth, putting it well out of reach of human exploration.
51 Peb b has an orbit period of just 4.23 days and is just half the distance from its host star as the Earth is to the Sun.
Astronomers also say that the exoplanet is very similar to Jupiter – meaning that it is a gas giant, making life on the surface of the planet very unlikely.
The exoplanet is similar to Jupiter
However, famed US scientist Carl Sagan theorised life on Jupiter would take the form of enormous balloon-like lifeforms that float above the hot gasses on Jupiter’s surface.
He said on his TV show, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, that “vast living balloons could stay buoyant by pumping heavy gasses from their interiors or by keeping their insides warm.”
Where there is water on Earth, there is life
This means that the possibility of life should not be ruled on “hot jupiter” – nicknamed due to what it is made up of and closeness to its star – 51 Peb b.
The astronomers wrote in their paper published in arXiv.org: "We have presented a … detection of water molecules in the atmosphere of the original hot Jupiter, 51 Peg b, providing the first confirmation that the 51 Peg Ab system is a double-lined spectroscopic binary.
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"We detected no methane or carbon dioxide at a significant level in our observations, indicating a low abundance, or possibly inaccuracies in the line lists we used to create the model templates.”