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Three New Exoplanets Seen In Direct Photographs 43

Posted by timothy
from the way-out-there-man dept.
The Bad Astronomer writes "Planets orbiting other stars are usually found indirectly (by blocking their stars' light or inducing a Doppler shift in the light as they orbit, for example), but direct images of exoplanets are extremely rare. However, using the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have taken photographs of three nearby exoplanets, all young, massive, and hot. One may be massive enough to count as a brown dwarf, but the other two are more likely in the planet-mass range. All three are very far from their stars, which means they may have formed differently than the planets in our solar system."
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Three New Exoplanets Seen In Direct Photographs

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  • by P-niiice (1703362) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:00PM (#45584409)
    The OP was talking about planets, right?
  • I see the NSA is not content with spying on Earthlings...
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      If they're unconcerned with spying on citizens of other countries on this planet, they're definitely not going to give a damn about those on other planets.

  • by Covalent (1001277) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:21PM (#45584691)
    These planets are directly observable with current technology. Within 10 years, one would imagine that smaller, nearer-to-the-star planets will be directly viewed...perhaps even spectroscopy on the planet's atmosphere will be possible. The James Webb telescope might be able to do some of this as soon as 2017.

    That said, will we see strong evidence for life on another world soon? My guess is that an atmosphere with gases that simply don't belong there in large quantities (dimethyl sulfide, free oxygen, etc.) will be found sooner rather than later...and that will more or less wrap it up.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      I think the threshold for 'strong' evidence will be in doubt for some time.

      Yes, if we see a lot of oxygen we might conclude it's possibly/probably life.

      But, the universe conspires to show us new and exotic things we can't quite figure out all the time -- if there's vast clouds of alcohol floating about in space, I think until we're actually directly looking at/talking with something, we'll only ever suspect there could be life.

      • by Covalent (1001277)
        Good point. I suppose oxygen in an atmosphere isn't a dead lock that there's life there, although it wags its finger very suggestively.

        If we do find free oxygen in an atmosphere, though, you can bet all eyes will be trained on that planet. What kind of technology would be required to confirm the presence of life visually? Obviously radio signals or something like that would be a clincher, but suppose the life there is non-technological. Could we ever "verify" that there was life on that planet without
        • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:05PM (#45585261) Homepage

          What kind of technology would be required to confirm the presence of life visually?

          If you'd asked anybody that 25 years ago they'd laugh and say it's impossible. My first thought is it still might be, but the jumps they've made in imaging over the last few decades are staggering. Now you can get as good resolution from ground-based telescopes as the ones in space, because the image processing has gotten so much better.

          It would be quite a feat to directly image life on a planet over vast distances and through atmospheres, so my complete and total guess is unless they've got something really large and obvious like city lights, we probably can't.

          Could we ever "verify" that there was life on that planet without going there or sending a probe (which is currently not feasible)?

          I can't speculate how, but I'm not an astro-physicist (or a physicists for that matter) ... for all I know some of the boffins are trying to figure out how they'd go about this. It certainly would be one hell of a feat.

          When I was in university and hung out with astrophysicists, the notion of detecting an exoplanet was still a bit of a stretch. Since then, we've inferred or directly observed so many it's astounding.

          • I'd read some interesting articles about "using polarized light to determine chirality." Basically, the building blocks of our proteins are "right handed" (I think, I could get this flipped right here), a result of a yellow sun favoring certain right-handed outcomes in carbon molecules as they constantly get destroyed and re-attached in space and with radiation. Life is left-handed amino acids based upon the right-handed building blocks being more abundant. Due to this chirality, the light coming off our pl

          • by Valdrax (32670)

            It would be quite a feat to directly image life on a planet over vast distances and through atmospheres, so my complete and total guess is unless they've got something really large and obvious like city lights, we probably can't.

            The presence of large amounts of oxygen in an atmosphere would be a very, very strong indication, because oxygen doesn't stick around unbound to minerals and most gasses without something working very hard at separating it out. This holds true for any other highly reactive chemical that doesn't have any significant geological causes. We could find out by spectroscopy of the atmosphere.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          If we do find free oxygen in an atmosphere, though, you can bet all eyes will be trained on that planet. What kind of technology would be required to confirm the presence of life visually? Obviously radio signals or something like that would be a clincher, but suppose the life there is non-technological. Could we ever "verify" that there was life on that planet without going there or sending a probe (which is currently not feasible)?

          Visually, no that's impossible. One square meter of earth is hit with about 1600W or 5*10^21 photons from the sun every second. Even if you built a collector the size of the earth five light years away only 1 in 2.8*10^23 photons from that square meter would hit earth, meaning you'd never get the resolution to positively identify even a giant dinosaur. It's not a matter of technology, but of quantum physics. We'd need a probe to land, build a very powerful radio telescope that would operate a point-to-point

    • And the world will celebrate... for two days, until people realise that this 'life' isn't the type that talks, but most likely algae-like organisms, plants at best. Then the world goes back to watching celebrities do stupid things on television.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You're probably right - with millions of light-years between us, odds are they won't meet us while we're evenly matched. Either we discover the algae, or the gods discover us.

  • by Sir_Eptishous (873977) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:46PM (#45585023) Homepage
    FTA:

    FW Tau is perhaps the most interesting of the three systems. The star is actually a binary, two stars orbiting each other. Both stars are cool red dwarfs, about a quarter of the mass of the Sun each, orbiting about 1.6 billion kilometers (one billion miles) apart, roughly the distance of Saturn to the Sun. The stars are a bit less than two million years old, and are 470 light years from Earth.

    Two Million? Really?

    • by Nyder (754090)

      FTA:

      FW Tau is perhaps the most interesting of the three systems. The star is actually a binary, two stars orbiting each other. Both stars are cool red dwarfs, about a quarter of the mass of the Sun each, orbiting about 1.6 billion kilometers (one billion miles) apart, roughly the distance of Saturn to the Sun. The stars are a bit less than two million years old, and are 470 light years from Earth.

      Two Million? Really?

      No, I'm sure they meant 6k years old.

    • Re:Is this correct? (Score:4, Informative)

      by SpaceIsBig (3452621) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @01:48PM (#45585827)
      Yes, according to the arXiv article. It's located in a region of recent star formation.
  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Tuesday December 03, 2013 @12:56PM (#45585153) Homepage

    As awesome as this is, I'd love to see a time-lapse series of an exoplanet orbiting its star. I think that'd really drive home what we're looking at.

    • How long until we get a time-lapse sequence?

      We might have a chance once the >30m telescopes start coming online (e.g. ELT). Up until then there's no chance, given these planets are at ~150-300 AU (5-10 times the radius of Neptune, who's orbital period is ~160 years) and therefore have orbit periods of thousands of years.

  • Is the shape of these dots representing merely the telescope's own artifacts? Will we be able to see clouds/continents of the largest exoplanets, if Phil Plait's prediction, that seeing Earth--sized planets is only a few years away, turns out to be true?

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

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