Out-of-this-world atmospheres

Light from a distant, giant world offers clues to the gases in its atmosphere

By Stephen Ornes, 11:14 AM March 29, 2013

This illustration depicts the planet HR 8799c (foreground) orbiting its star. Two other planets in the system can also be seen in the drawing. Credit: Image courtesy of Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics; Mediafarm

The study of planets outside the solar system just took a big jump forward. Scientists have identified some of the gases that make up the atmospheres of four exoplanets circling the same star.

“This is the start of a great new era in exoplanet studies,” Sara Seager told Science News. Seager, who did not take part in the new studies, is a planet hunter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Astronomers have identified hundreds of exoplanets in the past few decades. But...

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