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 NASA mission surfs through waves in space to understand space weather
25.07.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht A new level of magnetic saturation
25.07.2017 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

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: Carbon Nanotubes Turn Electrical Current into Light-emitting Quasi-particles

Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers

Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...

Im Focus: Flexible proximity sensor creates smart surfaces

Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.

At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...

Im Focus: 3-D scanning with water

3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects

A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA mission surfs through waves in space to understand space weather

25.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Strength of tectonic plates may explain shape of the Tibetan Plateau, study finds

25.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

The dense vessel network regulates formation of thrombocytes in the bone marrow

25.07.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>