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Astronomers Find A Watery, Cloudy Atmosphere On An Exoplanet

The finding will help scientists understand how the planet formed.
Posted at 2:53 PM, May 11, 2017

Astronomers have discovered a cloudy, watery atmosphere on an exoplanet that's 437 light years away.

More than 3,000 exoplanets have been discovered to date, but it can be tough to learn about their atmospheres. They're orbiting stars that are light years away, and sometimes they're so close to those stars that it's too bright to see details.

And different exoplanets can gain atmospheres in different ways. Some gather hydrogen and helium while they form. Some get layers of complex organic molecules. And some, like this Neptune-sized planet we just found, show clear signs of water in their atmospheres, which probably gathered some time after it formed.

Water vapor isn't especially rare on exoplanets. Gas giants can have a lot of it. In 2014, a team found some on an exoplanet 124 light years away.

The researchers say this new finding will help them understand how exoplanets get their variety of atmospheres and offer clues as to how they form.