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Scientists just discovered water on a planet you’ve never even heard of

Published Feb 3rd, 2017 10:58AM EST
planets with water
Image: NASA

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For the past couple of decades or so, humanity has been scraping in the dust and dirt on Mars for a number of different scientific reasons, including the ever illusive search for water on the distant planet. Now, researchers have found water on a planet that’s not our own, but it’s not on Mars, either. In fact, the planet that scientists found water on isn’t even in our solar system, and it’s so far away that we may never actually visit it at all. It’s called 51 Pegasi B, and it’s a whopping 50 light years away.

The team of sky gazers who made the discovery did so using Chile’s Very Large Telescope, peering deep into space to study the faraway planet. 51 Pegasi B is what is considered to be a “Hot Jupiter” planet, meaning that it’s a massive body that orbits much closer to its star than our own Jupiter, leading to extremely hot surface temperatures.

Researchers took a novel approach to detecting water on the distant sphere, using the extremely powerful telescope to keep an eye on the planet over the course of a four-hour period. Picking up the light that the planet gave off as it moved away from and then towards our own planet while orbiting, the team was able to identify the planet’s atmosphere and detect the presence of water.

So what does the discovery mean for us here on Earth? Well, for the moment not too much. Taking the distance between Earth and the watery exoplanet into account, it’s unlikely that we’ll actually take a trip there to see the sights. However, the detection of water at such an extreme distance is indeed an impressive scientific feat, and such a method could be used in the future to help confirm the presence of water on planets much closer than this particular Hot Jupiter.