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Space Technology

Ultra-Sensitive Camera To Measure Exoplanet Sizes 62

Posted by timothy
from the ignoring-global-poverty dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "US astronomers and engineers have built a new camera to precisely measure the size of planets moving around distant stars. This camera has been dubbed OPTIC — short for 'Orthogonal Parallel Transfer Imaging Camera.' According to the research team, it is 'so sensitive that it could detect the passage of a moth in front of a lit window from a distance of 1,000 miles.' I'm not sure if this analogy is right, but the team said it was able to precisely define the size of a planet called WASP-10b which is orbiting around the star WASP-10, about 300 light-years from Earth."
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Ultra-Sensitive Camera To Measure Exoplanet Sizes

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  • by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @04:27PM (#26105401)
    Re those "splitinfinitive" taggers: Split infinitives are perfectly legal [askoxford.com] in English.
    Yes, in American English [nytimes.com] as well.

    And if they are used to change the emphasis in a phrase, they often are very useful too. They can even allow for improved clarity.
    So just stop to stupidly impose latin grammar rules and conventions on another language.

    By the way: Ending sentences with prepositions [trinicenter.com] is generally OK as well.
    • by owlnation (858981) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @04:43PM (#26105509)
      Thank you!

      And dear Grammar Nazis, take note that the object of language is communication. Shakespeare (perchance, fairly highly regarded for his vocabulary and poetry) made up new words and rules all the time. It's fun being creative with words.

      If the grammar, spelling or sentence structure makes a passage unintelligible, then it's sometimes fine to point that out. Otherwise... shut the fuck up. Go bully people on Wikipedia like you normally do -- there you'll be very welcome.
      • Otherwise... shut the fuck up.

        Or, you could just ask them to fuckingly shut up.

      • by Fluffeh (1273756)
        Most of the time when we GN's (I think you can work out the acronym here yes?) are picking on people, it's those who are either writing with a total disregard for any sort of punctuation or grammar, or we are pointing out something amusing in the text. Please don't take personal offense to our mockery of your post - unless it is one of the above scenarios. If that is indeed the case, please visit Learn To Spell [learntospell.net] and we will all be happier for your visit.
    • by mkiwi (585287)

      Actually, Roland did make a mistake...

      On the last line it reads:
      I'm not sure if this analogy is right, but the team said it was able to precisely define the size of a planet called WASP-10b which is orbiting around the star WASP-10, about 300 light-years from Earth."

      He needs a comma "," after the "WASP-10b" in order to make the usage of "which" correct. If there's no comma in that context he needs to use "that" instead of "which." It's a common mistake. Actually, he'd be better off braking that sentence

      • Actually, he'd be better off braking that sentence in two with the diction he chose

        Really, I don't think his sentence was too precipitous, so braking seems unnecessary.

        Might have been a good idea to use two sentences instead of one though.

    • It's never going to be possible to completely rid the Internet of Grammar Nazis---they're something we're just going to have to put up with.

      But we can be passive-aggressive like hell.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by lgw (121541)

        But we can be passive-aggressive like hell.

        Avoid the passive voice.

  • Almost got me, there, Roland.

    Astronomy.com Linky [astronomy.com].

    • Almost got me, there, Roland. Astronomy.com Linky

      Why is that article better than the one directly from the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy link where the research was conducted?

      Roland stopped linking to his own page a long time ago, so I don't really get why there's any hatred left. I actually never really got why there was any hate to begin with, but now there's really no excuse.

      • by isaac (2852)

        Roland stopped linking to his own page a long time ago...

        No, he didn't. His name links to his own plagiarism blog. He's still using Slashdot to accrete pagerank and views for his plagiarism. All he stopped doing was linking to his plagiarism in the submission text.

        It's clever but still borderline scummy IMHO.

        -Isaac

        • He's still using Slashdot to accrete pagerank

          No. It's a ref="nofollow" link, it's not adding pagerank. As for views... slashdot's owners want to offer submitters those views to encourage good submissions, so why in the world should you object?

  • by kwikrick (755625) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @04:48PM (#26105553) Homepage Journal

    It measures light to a precision of one part in 2,000

    So that's 11 bits of intensity information? Most professional camera CCD's are 12 bits per color. Some are 14 bits per color. Doesn't sound very impressive. And with multiple exposures, it should be possible to get a much higher resolution.

    The photometric precision is three to four times higher than that of typical CCDs and two to three times higher than the best CCDs, and comparable to the most recent results from the Hubble Space Telescope for stars of the same brightness.

    Hmmm, still doesn't sound too impressive. What do they mean by 'typical CCD' anyway?

    In any case, it's not more sensitive than the Hubble apparently, so it's probably not going to make any breakthrough discoveries.

    Nice, but not news.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In any case, it's not more sensitive than the Hubble apparently, so it's probably not going to make any breakthrough discoveries.

      Nowadays the quality of images is better from earth than from the HST. Although there is the atmosphere, on places with extremely low humidity like Mauna Kea large telescopes can be built. The HST is quite a small telescope, and with corrections of the atmosphere (like adaptive optics, lucky imaging, ...) the result is better from earth.

      Other than that, I believe the scientists there when they say, they improved the precision by a factor of 2-3.

      • The 2.2-meter telescope they're using is slightly smaller than the HST. My guess: the real advantage is that they can devote more of this telescope's time to exoplanet studies than can the HST, which has many more users.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What's news isn't the technical specs of the new camera but the application for which it was developed and its effectiveness in that application. Do you know any other cameras that can precisely measure planet-sized objects 300 light years away?

    • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Saturday December 13, 2008 @05:26PM (#26105815)

      It measures light to a precision of one part in 2,000

      So that's 11 bits of intensity information? Most professional camera CCD's are 12 bits per color. Some are 14 bits per color. Doesn't sound very impressive. And with multiple exposures, it should be possible to get a much higher resolution.

      14 bits is all nice and good if your light source is the local star and you can saturate your CCD within milliseconds.
      We're measuring starlight here, at maybe 10 orders of magnitude less light. Try getting 14-bit resolution at that level without drowning in noise.

    • You seem to be confusing a measure of resolution with a measure of sensitivity or accuracy. It doesn't matter if it's 24 bits per colour if the results aren't accurate or if the thing can't detect any light in the first place. When you can post up a picture of WASP-10b taken with your digi cam, I'll eat my hat.
  • Everyone knows a camera adds at least 10 pounds to the subject.
  • Pics or it didn't happen.....

  • WASP? (Score:4, Funny)

    by rasputin465 (1032646) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @09:03PM (#26107325)

    the team said it was able to precisely define the size of a planet called WASP-10b which is orbiting around the star WASP-10, about 300 light-years from Earth.

    Next up for the team? Precisely measure planets around stars SPIC-20, CHINK-15, and GRINGO-117.

  • by Peter Cooper (660482) on Saturday December 13, 2008 @10:03PM (#26107725) Homepage Journal

    (300 light years / 1000 miles) * 2 inches [google.com] == 89 588 337.2 kilometers

    So (assuming an average moth is about 2 inches in size) it could make out a planet of about 90 million km (some 64 times wider than Sol) in diameter in front of a star that's 300 light years away, right?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Bad interpretation. They are taking about change in intensity of light.

      A moth flying in front of a window.
      A window is say 3'x4' = 12 sq ft = 1728 sq in.
      Moth is 2" wide, 1" tall triangle = 1 sq in.

      change in intensity = 1/1728 = .06%

      If the star is size of sun, size of planet
        = sqrt(.06%)
        = 0.24% in diameter compared to star
        = .24/100 * 1.4e6 km = 3367 km

  • by Shag (3737) on Sunday December 14, 2008 @02:04PM (#26111781) Homepage

    OPTIC is not exactly a new camera, nor was it purpose-built for this. It's about four years old, and was the prototype camera for John Tonry's OTCCD (Orthogonal Transfer CCD) chips, which are now better known as the chips inside Pan-STARRS' gigapixel camera, I think. The OTCCDs have some in-chip guiding capabilities, which are kinda neat. If I recall, OPTIC spends half the year at (but not always on) the UH 2.2-meter (where I'm an operator) and half the year at WIYN.

    Because OPTIC works somewhat differently than our other cameras, it doesn't exactly have a whole lot of users. John Johnson came up with the idea of using it to do light curves of transiting planets, and it turned out to work pretty well, to the point that he and his collaborators (including a couple summer REU students from the mainland) were able to get the first full-transit light curves of some particular planets.

    (*involved as in, I was operating the scope that night in August and got to see those light curves in "real time." Fortunately, being thanked at the end of a scientific paper preprint earns me geek cred with my 9-year-old. ;)

  • ...is 11 bits of precision, approximately. Somehow I'm underwhelmed.

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