Thursday, March 28, 2013

Exploring the Makeup of Extrasolar Planets

Oppenheimer stands with the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory at Caltech, used with the four instruments developed to capture the light from HR 8799's planets. In the subset is an image, rendered in black and white for clarity, of the distant solar system. At the central point is HR 8799 — though its light is blocked, hence the black disc — and it is surrounded by four planets marked 'b', 'c', 'd' and 'e'. The image is a composite of 30 separate data sets, each captured for a different light wavelength during a period of just over one hour.


Astronomers have developed a new way to detect chemical processes that take place on extrasolar planets, a technique that could one day help us find distant planets capable of sustaining life.

The new approach refines earlier attempts to deduce the chemical composition of an extrasolar planet's atmosphere — or surface, if there is no cloud cover — by first separating the light from the planet from that of its host star with set of new complex imaging tools. Then the light is divided into a spectrum.

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