While Searching For Alien Life, Astronomers Detected Water In The Atmosphere Of Gas Planet HR 8799c

Astronomers working at the Keck Observatory in Maunakea, Hawaii discovered water in the atmosphere of gas planet HR 8799c, which is 179 light years away from Earth.

Artist's depiction of a planet
Dotted Yeti / Shutterstock

Astronomers working at the Keck Observatory in Maunakea, Hawaii discovered water in the atmosphere of gas planet HR 8799c, which is 179 light years away from Earth.

While astronomers were busy seeking out alien life at the Keck Observatory in Maunakea, Hawaii, they were able to learn more about the gas planet HR 8799c, one of four planets that orbit their parent star HR 8799 at a distance of 179 light years away from Earth. This planet was, surprisingly, found to contain water in its atmosphere.

According to the Daily Mail, HR 8799c is located in the constellation of Pegasus and is a tremendously large planet, approximately seven times larger than Jupiter. Astronomers discovered a distinct lack of methane in the atmosphere of this planet, while also detecting water in its atmosphere through the use of high-resolution spectroscopy coupled with adaptive optics, which helped to stifle the blurring that would normally occur due to the atmosphere of Earth.

As soon as astronomers were able to capture HR 8799c in a photograph, they then utilized the Near-Infrared Cryogenic Echelle Spectrograph (NIRSPEC) spectrometer to strip the light away from the gas giant. By doing this, chemicals were swiftly revealed in the atmosphere of the planet.

Dimitri Mawet, an associate professor of astronomy at Caltech, explained that this kind of technology is trending in scientists’ efforts to search for alien life in space.

“This type of technology is exactly what we want to use in the future to look for signs of life on an Earth-like planet. We aren’t there yet but we are marching ahead.”

Even though astronomers have been able to successfully capture different exoplanets in photographs, HR 8799 is the very first multi-planet solar system that has had its picture snapped. Researchers are now very hopeful that they will also be able to perform the same feat on other, smaller planets orbiting close to stars.

Astronomers at the Keck Observatory have stated that their biggest goal right now is to search for the right mixture of chemicals that could suggest that there are other Earth-like planets out there that host alien life. These planets, of course, would need chemicals like oxygen, methane and water, and the planet HR 8799c is now known to contain water in its atmosphere, which greatly pushes forward the work done at the observatory.

Ji Wang, who is the lead author of the new study on HR 8799c, has stated, “Right now, with Keck, we can already learn about the physics and dynamics of these giant exotic planets, which are nothing like our own solar system planets. We are now more certain about the lack of methane in this planet. This may be due to mixing in the planet’s atmosphere. The methane, which we would expect to be there on the surface, could be diluted if the process of convection is bringing up deeper layers of the planet that don’t have methane.”

The new study on the discovery of water in the atmosphere of planet HR 8799c has been published in the Astronomical Journal.