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 The taming of the light screw
22.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Magnetic micro-boats
21.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Polymerforschung

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: The taming of the light screw

DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.

The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...

Im Focus: Magnetic micro-boats

Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.

The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...

Im Focus: Self-healing coating made of corn starch makes small scratches disappear through heat

Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.

Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...

Im Focus: Stellar cartography

The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.

A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...

Im Focus: Heading towards a tsunami of light

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International Modelica Conference with 330 visitors from 21 countries at OTH Regensburg

11.03.2019 | Event News

Selection Completed: 580 Young Scientists from 88 Countries at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

01.03.2019 | Event News

LightMAT 2019 – 3rd International Conference on Light Materials – Science and Technology

28.02.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Laser processing is a matter for the head – LZH at the Hannover Messe 2019

25.03.2019 | Trade Fair News

A Varied Menu

25.03.2019 | Life Sciences

‘Time Machine’ heralds new era

25.03.2019 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>