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Deccan Herald(09-07-2013)
Novel technique
boosts hunt for
water on exoplanets
LONDON, AGENCIES: Astronomers have detected the
tell-talespectral fingerprintof
water molecules in the atmosphere of a planet in orbit
around another star.
The discovery using ESO's
Very Large Telescope (VLT),
endorsesa new techniquethat
will let astronomersefficiently
search for ,water on hundreds
of worlds without the need for
Since the early 1990s scientists have found almost 1000
planets in orbit around other
stars.These so-calledexoplanets are mostly much larger
than the Earth and many are
much closer to their stars than
we are to the Sun, leadingthem
to be d e s c r i i as 'hot Jupiters'.
The team studied the exoplanet HD 189733b, a world
that orbits its star every 2.2
days and is heated to aternperature of over1500 degrees Celsius. Astronomers usually find
exoplanets by measuring the
gravitational influence of the
planet on the star, which acts
to pull the star around in avery
small orbit, at velocitiesof a few
kilometres per hour.
This movement causes a
small shift in the lines of the
stellar spectrum (known as the
Doppler shift), which move
back and forthwith the wobble
of the star. The Netherlanuden Univw-ledteam fipped
the technique on its head by
measuringthe gravitationalinfluence of the star on the planet,
which is much larger, hurling
the planet around its orbit at
some 400,000 km per hour.
They measured this by tracing the Doppler shift of the water lines in the emplanet's spectrum as it orbited the star.
Despite the much larger velocity of the planet, it is nearly
a thousand times fainter than
the $w,whichmakesdetecting
it verv difficult. The team were
able k~
detect the spectral line
of water in the exoplanet atmosphere by using the CRyogenic high-resolutionInfraRed
(CRIRES) instrument mounted0ntheW.T.