Astronomers continue to tally up how many planets are orbiting other stars. But finding out what their atmospheres are made of is another story. Two teams of scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant exoplanets. The planets are not the size of Earth, but rather massive worlds known as hot Jupiters because they orbit so close to their stars. Hubble's instruments can deduce the types of gases in the atmospheres of these monsters by determining which colors of a star's light are transmitted and which are partially absorbed as the planet passes in front of its star. The observations demonstrate Hubble's continuing exemplary performance in exoplanet research.
George Herbig (1920–2013)
Nature 503, 7477 (2013). doi:10.1038/503470a
Author: Bo Reipurth
Astronomer who pioneered studies of young stars.
Nailing fingerprints in the stars
Nature 503, 7477 (2013). doi:10.1038/503437a
Laboratory-based experiments are sorely needed to complement the rapidly proliferating spectral data originating from observations by the latest space telescopes.
Astrophysics: Exception tests the rules
Nature 503, 7477 (2013). doi:10.1038/503477a
Authors: K. D. Kuntz
Detailed observations of an intermittent ultraluminous X-ray source indicate that its emission is unlikely to be powered by mass accretion onto an intermediate-mass black hole as previously thought. See Letter p.500