An atmosphere is what makes life on Earth's surface possible, regulating our climate and sheltering us from damaging cosmic rays. But although telescopes have counted a growing number of rocky planets, scientists had thought most of their atmospheres long lost.

However, a new study by University of Chicago and Stanford University researchers suggests a mechanism whereby these could not only develop atmospheres full of water vapor, but keep them for long stretches. Published March 15 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the research expands our picture of planetary formation and could help direct the search for habitable worlds in other .

"Our model is saying that these hot, rocky exoplanets should have a water-dominated at some stage, and for some planets, it may be quite a long time," said Asst. Prof. Edwin Kite, an expert in how evolve over time.

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