March 6, 2014
Measuring the atmospheric pressure of a distant exoplanet may seem like a daunting task but astronomers at the University of Washington have now developed a new technique to do just that.
When exoplanet discoveries first started rolling in, astronomers laid emphasis in finding planets within the habitable zone — the band around a star where water neither freezes nor boils. But characterizing the environment and habitability of an exoplanet doesn’t depend on the planet’s surface temperature alone.
Atmospheric pressure is just as important in gauging whether or not the surface of an exoplanet may likely hold liquid water. Anyone familiar with camping at high-altitude should have a good understanding of how pressure affects water’s boiling point.