Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hazy red sunset on an extrasolar planet...


© NASA, ESA, & G. Bacon (STScI)
From a 11 December 2007 press release from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope reported by SpaceRef.com

A team of astronomers have used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to detect, for the first time, strong evidence of hazes in the atmosphere of a planet orbiting a distant star. The discovery comes after extensive observations made recently with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).

The team, led by Frederic Pont from the Geneva University Observatory in Switzerland, used Hubble's ACS to make the first detection of hazes in the atmosphere of the giant planet. "One of the long-term goals of studying extrasolar planets is to measure the atmosphere of an Earth-like planet, this present result is a step in this direction" says Pont. "HD 189733b is the first extrasolar planet for which we are piecing together a complete idea of what it really looks like."

The exciting aspect of this is, of course, the increased possibility that astronomers may, within years, measure the atmosphere of a planet that bears life - and life will leave its mark on any atmosphere. While not cold, hard, definitive proof of life (even then, some folk would just refuse to accept), it would be exciting evidence.

For a "Hubblecast" video of this new find, and more info on "hot Jupiters," visit <http://www.spacetelescope.org/videos/vodcast/heic0720a.m4v>

Reference:

"Hazy Red Sunset on Extrasolar Planet." SpaceRef. com. 11 December 2007. 19 December 2007. <http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=24244>

"Heic0720: Hazy Red Sunset on Extrasolar Planet." News and Photo Releases. The European Homepage for the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. <http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/html/heic0720.html>

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