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September 24, 2014 01:00 PM (EDT)

News Release Number: STScI-2014-42

NASA Telescopes Find Clear Skies and Water Vapor on Exo-Neptune

September 24, 2014: The weather forecast for a planet 120 light-years from Earth is clear skies and steamy water vapor. Finding clear skies on a gaseous world the size of Neptune is a good sign that even smaller, Earth-size planets might have similarly good visibility. This would allow earthbound astronomers to measure the underlying atmospheric composition of an exoplanet. Astronomers using the Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler space telescopes were able to determine that the planet, cataloged HAT-P-11b, has water vapor in its atmosphere. The world is definitely steamy with temperatures over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The planet is so hot because it orbits so close to its star, completing one orbit every five days.

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Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, JPL, and Caltech

Science Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Fraine (University of Maryland; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile; California Institute of Technology), H. Knutson (California Institute of Technology), and D. Deming (University of Maryland; Ames Research Center/Astrobiology Institute)