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Water maser emission from exoplanetary systems

  • C. B. Cosmovici (a1) and S. Pogrebenko (a2)

Since the first discovery of a Jupiter-mass planet in 1995 more than 2000 exo-planets have been found to exist around main sequence stars. The detection techniques are based on the radial velocity method (which involves the measurement of the star's wobbling induced by the gravitational field of the orbiting giant planets) or on transit photometry by using space telescopes (Kepler, Corot, Hubble and Spitzer) outside the absorbing Earth atmosphere. From the ground, as infrared observations are strongly limited by atmospheric absorption, radioastronomy offers almost the only possible way to search for water presence and abundance in the planetary atmospheres of terrestrial-type planets where life may evolve. Following the discovery in 1994 of the first water maser emission in the atmosphere of Jupiter induced by a cometary impact, our measurements have shown that the water maser line at 22 GHz (1.35 cm) can be used as a powerful diagnostic tool for water search outside the solar system, as comets are able to deliver considerable amounts of water to planets raising the fascinating possibility of extraterrestrial life evolution. Thus in 1999 we started the systematic search for water on 35 different targets up to 50 light years away from the Sun. Here we report the first detection of the water maser emission from the exoplanetary systems Epsilon Eridani, Lalande 21185 and Gliese 581. We have shown the peculiar feasibility of water detection and its importance in the search for exoplanetary systems especially for the Astrobiology programs, given the possibility of long period observations using powerful radiotelescopes equipped with adequate spectrometers.

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International Journal of Astrobiology
  • ISSN: 1473-5504
  • EISSN: 1475-3006
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