Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Distant starlight reveals alien atmosphere

28.11.2001


Is there anybody out there?
© NASA


Hubble spots atmosphere on planet 150 light years away.

Astronomers have glimpsed the atmosphere of a planet in a solar system other than our own for the first time. The feat is a first step towards detecting planets capable of supporting life elsewhere in the Universe.

David Charbonneau, of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, and colleagues, pointed the Hubble space telescope at the planet, which lies 150 light years away in the constellation Pegasus. Of the 74 extrasolar planets discovered so far, this is the only one whose orbit passes between its star and the Earth, allowing the researchers to catch the signs of starlight shining through its atmosphere.



"It’s a very exciting discovery," says astronomer Phil Armitage of St Andrews University, Scotland. "We knew that these planets had atmospheres, but we didn’t know whether they would be detectable. It’s an astonishing technical achievement."

There is little chance that this particular planet supports life. It is a giant ball of gas about the same size as Jupiter, and lies closer to its star than Mercury does to our Sun. One year lasts a mere four Earth days, and it is fearsomely hot - about 1,100 °C.

Each element and compound in the planet’s atmosphere absorbs and scatters starlight of a tell-tale colour. The researchers fine-tuned Hubble to hunt for the signature of sodium, because this element gives a particularly strong signal: "a little goes a really long way," says Charbonneau.

In fact, they saw less sodium in the atmosphere than theoretical models had predicted, perhaps, suspects Charbonneau, because clouds in the planet’s atmosphere blot out some of the starlight.

Next, the team hopes to find potassium, methane and water vapour. While the planet is almost certainly too hot and reactive to contain any of the oxygen that would be the give-away of a potentially inhabited world, Charbonneau isn’t discouraged. The discovery of Earth-like planets is "much closer than most people imagine," he says.

Two space telescopes currently on the drawing board - NASA’s Kepler and the European Space Agency’s Eddington, should have the power to find Earth-sized planets orbiting distant stars at more hospitable distances, and analyse their atmospheres. Kepler could be finding worlds like our own by 2010.

JOHN WHITFIELD | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011129/011129-11.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Comet or asteroid? Hubble discovers that a unique object is a binary
21.09.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht First users at European XFEL
21.09.2017 | European XFEL GmbH

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Comet or asteroid? Hubble discovers that a unique object is a binary

21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cnidarians remotely control bacteria

21.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Monitoring the heart's mitochondria to predict cardiac arrest?

21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>