Skip to main content

In a first, astronomers snatch distant planet's 'fingerprint'

In a first, astronomers snatch distant planet's 'fingerprint'
PARIS – Astronomers said they had made the first direct capture of a spectrum of light from a planet outside the Solar System, in what was a landmark in the search for extra-terrestrial life.

The light was snared from a giant planet that orbits a bright young star called HR 8799 about 130 light years from Earth, the 14-nation European Southern Observatory (ESO) said in a press release.

HR 8799 has a mass about one and a half times that of the Sun and hosts a planetary system "that resembles a scaled-up model of our own Solar System," it said.

The target was the middle of three planets -- initially spotted in 2008 -- that are between seven and 10 times the mass of Jupiter.

The finding is important, because a light spectrum is like a fingerprint, ESO said. Hidden within it are telltales of the chemical elements in the planet's atmosphere.

"The result represents a milestone in the search for life elsewhere in the Universe," said ESO.

Until now, astronomers have been able to get only an indirect light sample from an exoplanet, as worlds beyond our Solar System are called.

They do this by measuring the spectrum of a star twice -- while an orbiting exoplanet passes in front of it, and again while the planet is directly behind it.

The planet's spectrum is thus calculated by subtracting one light sample from another.

But the method can only be used if the orientation of the exoplanet's orbit is exactly right, and only a tiny fraction of exoplanetary systems fall into this category.

HR 8799 is thousands of times brighter than the planet, which means that sifting out the spectrum was a technical exploit.

"It's like trying to see what a candle is made of, by observing it from a distance of two kilometers (1.2 miles) when it's next to a blindingly bright 300-watt lamp," said Markus Janson, who led a team who uncovered the spectrum.

They used an infrared detector on ESO's Very Large Telescope, located in Paranal, Chile.


Popular posts from this blog

Top 5 Women Who Impacted Technology in 2010

Katie Stanton, International Strategist for Twitter Katie Stanton has impressively long names of companies in her resume. They include the White House, Google Inc, and her latest addition is Twitter. Her remit is working on Twitter’s international strategy and her experience in social media will be a key asset to the company. Katie has a history of working in technology, and her knowledge of departmental laws will help Twitter work alongside government agencies, as she’ll be spearheading the free information approach, especially after the Wikileaks incident. Stanton has been a key player in the techsphere for some time, and this extends to her private life. Following the Haiti disaster she worked with a group of engineers to create a free texting service to help those in need and she is constantly in demand as an expert in both social media and government policy.
Caterina Fake, Co-Founder of Flickr and Hunch Despite having a surname which sounds like a pseudonym for a spy (it’…

AT&T MiFi 2372 review

In the week or so that I have been testing the AT&T MiFi 2372 by Novatel Wireless, it has already saved no less than three lives. First, it saved my cable guy’s life. You see, Time Warner Cable provides the worst home Internet service I have ever experienced. I can’t even think of a close second. If providing terrible home Internet service was a sport, Time Warner Cable would be on its tenth consecutive undefeated season. Forget the fact that my upload speed is capped at 60Kbps and I’m lucky if I can get half that — it has been months since I’ve gone through a full day without at least one service interruption. Months. Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable has an exclusive contract with my building so I have no choice but to endure its abysmal service. Last week, as a Time Warner Cable technician entered my home for the sixth time in two months, I realized that this certainly would have spelled serious trouble had it not been for my trusty new back up device. Before the Mi…

Evolution Of Computer Virus [infographic]