Evidence of Water in Atmospheres of Planets Orbiting Distant Stars

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Author: 
Mo Xinhai

According to a news report on Sept. 19th from newscientist.com web site, scientists found signs of water in the atmosphere of planets orbiting distant stars. Because water is thought to be a basic substance for life, if this discovery is confirmed it would provide evidence supporting the idea that there is life in outer space.

'This would be a historic discovery.' says Cristiano Cosmovici of the Institute for Cosmic and Planetary Sciences in Rome, whose team made the discovery.

Cosmovici's team has looked for water on 17 stars, all of which are thought to have planetary systems or cometary clouds. His team used the 32-metre Medicina radio telescope near Bologna to look for water 'maser' emissions. These are telltale microwaves that might come from water in a planet's atmosphere when it is bathed in the infrared light of its star. Three of the planetary systems are producing the emission. 'This result is astonishing if it's true,' says Geoff Marcy, a leading planet hunter from the University of California at Berkeley.

One of the planetary systems orbits the star Upsilon Andromedae, about 50 light years away. There are three planets in this system, with minimum masses of about 0.7, 2.1 and 4.6 times the mass of Jupiter. They are all gas giants like Jupiter, although it is possible that the system could also contain undetected rocky planets like Earth. There are also signs of water near two much closer stars: Epsilon Eridani, a Sun-like star 10 light years away, and Lalande 21185, a red dwarf about 8 light years away. Between them they may have three planets with a similar mass to Jupiter.

'Water's at the top of the shopping list of ingredients for life,' says Hugh Jones of Liverpool John Moores University, whose team announced a new Jupiter-mass planet this week. 'This is a very exciting first step.'

But these particular planets are unlikely to host life. "These gas giants presumably have no solid or liquid surface,' says Tim Brown of the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado. 'Their atmospheres are probably inimical to life as we know it, and at least some of them are far too hot to give life a chance.'

Although having water does not necessarily make a planet habitable, the result would at least show that one of the key chemicals for life is common on alien worlds. On other planets that are more similar to the Earth (For example, planets have solid or liquid surface and temperature is not too high), there might be a good chance to harbor living beings like those on our planet.
Closer to home, it is believed that oceans might be found under the icy crust of Jupiter's moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. More recently, moons of other planets in our system, including Titan, which orbits Saturn, and Neptunian moons Triton and Varuna have provided evidence of possible oceans of liquid water under ice. The evidence for the oceans comes from three areas: magnetic effects observed by the passing spacecraft, surface features that suggest there could be an ocean beneath them and calculations of heat flow from Europa's and other moons' interiors.
Scientist always puzzled by the fact that no life has been detected beyond the earth in the vast regions of the space. However, the cultivation community has a simple explanation. Life is teeming in our universe in different levels, but we have not found it simply because almost all of it is living in other dimensions and does not directly appear in ours. The Chinese saying "Three feet above one's head there are spiritual beings" reflects this understanding.

References:
http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99992810
http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/headlines-7.html


Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2002/10/4/18780.html