New Delhi: With the help of NASA telescopes, scientists have detected a water signature on the atmosphere of a distant Neptune-sized planet that could help in exploring more about the birth and development of planetary systems.
The study, combining observations from NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, shows that the distant planet HAT- P-26b has a primitive atmosphere composed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium.
Located about 437 light-years away, HAT-P-26b orbits a star roughly twice as old as our Sun.
The analysis is one of the most detailed studies to date of a "warm Neptune," or a planet that is Neptune-sized and close to its star.
The researchers determined that HAT-P-26b's atmosphere is relatively clear of clouds and has a strong water signature, although the planet is not a water world.
This is the best measurement of water to date on an exoplanet of this size.
Compared to Neptune and Uranus, the planets in our solar system with about the same mass, HAT-P-26b likely formed either closer to its host star or later in the development of its planetary system, or both.
"Astronomers have just begun to investigate the atmospheres of these distant Neptune-mass planets, and almost right away, we found an example that goes against the trend in our solar system," said Hannah Wakeford, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in the US.
To study HAT-P-26b's atmosphere, the researchers used data from transits - occasions when the planet passed in front of its host star.
(With Agency inputs)