Water has been confirmed to lie on a planet outside our own solar system for the first time ever, and scientists are already disappointed about the amount. According to research published today, scientists have confirmed that there is water on three large exoplanets they studied, but the amount they found was much less than they were expecting.

The findings were published in The Astrophysical Journal online today, and are set appear in the online printed version of the journal on August 1 for peer review. The study of exoplanets is becoming much easier thanks to advances in sensor technology, but the science is raising as many questions about the nature of the Universe as it is answering. With the world hoping that man will be able to reach outside of our solar system in this lifetime, exoplanets are an exciting area of research.

Not enough water in space

The search for extraterrestrial life is one of the driving curiosities behind the methodical study of exoplanets, and the availability of water is used as a key marker for the presence of life. According to the research published today, although the presence on water in the atmosphere of planets has been confirmed for the first time, their models of planetary formation led to a belief that there should be more water than they found.

The scientists studied three Jupiter-sized planets with hot atmospheres in their search for exo-water. Their names are, rather exotically HD 189733b, HD 209458b, and WASP-12b and they sit between 60 and 900 light-years away from Earth. Each planet had about a tenth of a percent of a percent of the water that scientists were expecting to find in their atmospheres.

The scientists studied the planets using space telescopes and techniques to map the composition of the gaseous halo surrounding the planets.

“Our water measurement in one of the planets is the highest-precision measurement of any chemical compound in a planet outside our solar system, and we can now say with much greater certainty than ever before that we’ve found water in an exoplanet,” said Mr.Madhusudhan

Scientists search for missing water

Nikku Madhusudhan of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, one of the scientists that led the study of the planets, said “It basically opens a whole can of worms in planet formation. We expected all these planets to have lots of water in them. We have to revisit planet formation and migration models of giant planets, especially ‘hot Jupiters’, and investigate how they’re formed.”

These very hot planets with large atmospheres, orbiting nearby stars, are the best possible candidates for measuring water levels. And yet the levels we found were much lower than expected. This shows just how challenging it could be to detect water on Earth-like exoplanets in our search for potential life elsewhere.” according to the study.

The results put theories of the way planets form into doubt. and leave scientists looking for alternatives, or modifiers for “accretion theory” which is currently used to explain the formation of planets around suns in our solar system and others.