Monday, March 31, 2008

Reflected Light From an Exoplanet Seen


Credit: 2007, ETH Zurich, S.V. Berdyugina
Last December, a team of astronomers with the Zurich's Institute of Astronomy, imaged, for the first time, the reflected light of an exoplanet (known as HD9189733b) using polarization (similar to how Polaroid sunglasses work). Because of this, they were able to, again for the first time, directly determine the orbit of an exoplanet. The planet orbits the dwarf star HD189733 located more than 60 light years away in the constellation Vulpecula. It orbits very close to its parent, with a year measured in just a couple of days. Because this close proximity, HD9189733b's atmosphere is swollen by the heat, as well as brightly reflects the dwarf stars light - which makes it easier to be detected visually.

This is an exciting development; another step toward being able to eventually (though probably not that far away) determine the atmospheric composition of another planet.

It may be that we will first detect extraterrestrial life not by their radio signals, but by visually seeing and analyzing their planet's atmosphere!

Reference:

ETH Zurich/Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. "Exoplanet Reflected Light Detected For The First Time." ScienceDaily. 28 December 2007. 31 March 2008 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/12/071226225432.htm>.

2 comments :

Science News said...

I hope we can detect more extrasolar planets with direct observation in the future. Hopefully the larger telescopes being built will be able to.

Mr. David Merchant said...

Improvements in technology (upgrading existing telescopes) and in observing techniques are also helping to increase our ability to spot exoplanets. I am very confident the new telescopes being built will allow us to not only detect more extrasolar planets, but to even detect terrestrial extrasolar planets and maybe even detect life. We may not be able to tell what kind of life, at what level of development/evolution, but we might be able to get clues from spectral analysis of the upper atmosphere (the level that is reflecting the most light from cloud tops).