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Space Science

First Reflected Light From an Exoplanet Seen 72

Roland Piquepaille writes "European astronomers have for the first time ever been able to detect and monitor the visible light that is scattered in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. Designated HD 189733b, also known as a 'hot Jupiter,' orbits a star slightly cooler and less massive than the Sun about 60 light-years from Earth. According to a Zurich news release, 'Polarization technique focuses limelight,' the researchers used 'techniques similar to how Polaroid sunglasses filter away reflected sunlight to reduce glare. They also directly traced the orbit of the planet, a feat of visualization not possible using indirect methods.' The team thinks that their findings are opening new opportunities for exploring physical conditions on exoplanets."
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First Reflected Light From an Exoplanet Seen

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  • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @07:31PM (#21834892) Homepage
    Designated HD 189733b, also known as a 'hot Jupiter,'

    I've given my girlfriend a "hot Jupiter" before, but I didn't know it had an official scientific serial number.
  • If only... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Scutter ( 18425 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @07:35PM (#21834930) Journal
    If only there were some sort of multi-media-enabled information sharing platform available so that everyone could see the visualizations for themselves. Oh well.
    • by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @07:37PM (#21834944) Homepage Journal
      Mirror of image here: o.
      • by Scutter ( 18425 )
        Mirror of image here: o.

        Alright, you owe me a new keyboard.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jd ( 1658 )
        That would require an array of telescopes roughly a mile in diameter. Certainly very possible, though as the square kilometer array has demonstrated, very hard to organize and fund.
        • I wonder what the James Webb Telescope will do for exo-planet research?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jd ( 1658 )
            For planetary research, you want radio telescopes specifically tuned to frequencies of larger molecules (water, sulpher dioxide, something like that). This should be where the planets are brightest and where all other objects are dimmest. My understanding of the Webber telescope is that it won't be looking in that sort of range. It's also very small for what you really want.
          • It'll resign[1] once they decomission the Hubble.

            [1] [] "In 1987, he served as Secretary of the Navy...Webb resigned in 1988 after refusing to agree to reduce the size of the Navy."
            Requiring a footnote for a joke is a clear indicator that it's not funny, but, then again, neither was the 2006 Senate campaign in Virginia.
        • Or a solar focus telescope [], then you can use the sun as your lens []. There's just that little detail about getting out to 550 AU!
      • Mirror of image here: .o

        There, fixed it for you...
      • >Mirror of image here: o.

        Is this a mirror of the planet, or another mirror of the goatse? I want to know whether I should be disgusted or not.
        • I larfed twice, first I thought goatse, almost fell out of my chair. Then when I saw the imaging comment from AC, (good one, eh?) and LOL all over again. Now the ol' lady is yelling I woke her up.
  • by parcanman ( 933838 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @07:41PM (#21834986)
    "...the researchers used 'techniques similar to how Polaroid sunglasses filter away reflected sunlight to reduce glare..." Funny, I didn't even know Polaroid made sunglasses, here I thought they only made photography stuff. I assume the writer meant Polarized sunglasses?
    • by jcaldwel ( 935913 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @07:50PM (#21835056)

      You are right, Polaroid is a name brand, but they do make sunglasses [].

      One definition from []: a brand of material for producing polarized light from unpolarized light by dichroism, consisting typically of a stretched sheet of colorless plastic treated with an iodine solution so as to have long, thin, parallel chains of polymeric molecules containing conductive iodine atoms. It is used widely in optical and lighting devices to reduce glare.

      ... it doesn't just refer to the cameras.

      • Fresh out of Mod points, mod up someone The naming is awkward, I believe the term "polarized" is more correct when refering to these kind of glasses, Polaroid leads to confusion.
    • by Angry Toad ( 314562 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @08:09PM (#21835172)
      A million years ago when I was a young one, calling them "Polaroid sunglasses" was actually pretty standard. The text probably reflects the age of the person who put the release together.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 27, 2007 @08:25PM (#21835304)
      It's no coincidence that polarized sunglasses have a name similar to Polaroid. Edwin Land, the inventor of the Polaroid camera, also invented the polarized film used in sunglasses. And the Polaroid company had the patent for that (then) new kind of polarizing film made by laying crystals down on plastic.
  • Steve Jobs sued the exoplanet for patent infringement, citing its ability to focus the limelight on anything other than him.
  • So... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by oblonski ( 1077335 )
    ...we are not alone then, after all?
  • Exoplanet (Score:4, Funny)

    by blue l0g1c ( 1007517 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @08:13PM (#21835200)
    Dear scientists, thank you for finding me.

    XO -planet
  • more info (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jack455 ( 748443 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @09:30PM (#21835738)
    It's got a wiki page [] as well. It's listed as only 15% more Massive than Jupiter.

    "Hot Jupiters [] (also called roasters, epistellar jovians, pegasids or pegasean planets) are a class of extrasolar planets whose mass is close to or exceeds that of Jupiter"

    I figured Hot Jubiter implied "hotter than" but I guess that's not the case.
    • Re:more info (Score:4, Informative)

      by ZombieWomble ( 893157 ) on Thursday December 27, 2007 @09:48PM (#21835840)
      It does imply "hotter than", if you quote the full definition from the article you cite:

      ... but unlike in the Solar System, where Jupiter orbits at 5 AU, the planets referred to as hot Jupiters orbit within approximately 0.05 AU of their parent stars, about one eighth the distance that Mercury orbits the Sun.
      Being only 1% as far away from their parent star does imply they would be significantly hotter than Jupiter (I say imply because I can't be bothered to work out the exact numbers on whether it would be feasible for such a planet orbiting a very cold star to be colder than Jupiter. I doubt it, but don't want to go around throwing out absolutes without basis).
      • This is Slashdot. No one would bat an eye...
      • by jack455 ( 748443 )
        I'm not sure quoting it would make it more obvious than reading it, although it would've been more informative for others. I'd read it but missed the obvious.
      • Re:more info (Score:4, Informative)

        by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Friday December 28, 2007 @01:50AM (#21837026)
        It depends on whether such a planet could survive the blow offs that occur as the parent star enters a white dwarf stage. Low mass helium core white dwarfs as small as 0.11 solar masses do exist, probably as the remnants of what were originally already very small stars, but there's some question how such a small star ages fast enough that any have already blown off surface layers and collapsed. For example a star of only 0.7 standard solar masses is expected to end up as a white dwarf of about 0.4 solar masses, but stars starting even that small should have a lifetime of close to 14 billion years, so white dwarfs that proportionately small or even smaller shouldn't have had time to form by conventional means yet. There is a phenominon called Roche lobe mass transfer that could give rise to very low mass dwarfs, which would now be in binary systems, chiefly with pulsars as companion stars, but the process of forming the pulsar itself would be the sort of thing that would definitely blow a lot of a gas giant's atmosphere away into interstellar space even if the conventional small sister star's collapse was energetically light enough not to.
              Could some planet start as a 10 Jupiter mass close in giant, and end up with 1 or 2 Jupiter masses left after a big star just a million miles or so away went through at least one actual Nova and subsequent collapse to pulsar, and then a smaller, equally near star went through a small red giant phases and collapse to a white dwarf? It sounds a bit improbable, but what if the small mass star is exactly between the gas giant and the large mass star when the big one Novas?

        Note: For anyone who knows a little astrophysics, yes a typical white dwarf star is very hot, i.e. the surface temperature may be 23,000 K as opposed to our sun's modest 5,700 K, but the actual amount of heat emitted is very much smaller due to the small surface area. It takes a high mass (0.91 solar masses plus) white dwarf to have a zone around it hot enough for a planet to have liquid water at all. (So yes, they could have very close in but still cold Jovians).
    • Hot Jupiters are Jupiter (or larger) sized planets that are significantly closer to their sun than our Jupiter is.
    • I had a box of epistellar jovians in my stocking this year.
  • by psydad ( 12743 )
    I can't believe no one has done the Svetlana and Hot Jupiter angle...
    This is /. is it not??
  • Future possibilities (Score:4, Interesting)

    by damburger ( 981828 ) on Friday December 28, 2007 @08:29AM (#21838348)

    If an exoplanet can be directly imaged in this manner, does that mean some of the techniques used on stars for inferring the existence of exoplanets (wobbling, dimming etc) can be used to detect exomoons?

    This would be a great breakthrough if it were possible, seeing as most of the exoplanets we know about are gas giants and if they host life it is likely to be on their moons.

    • Thats true, but I'm not sure if exomoons are that interesting in that sense.

      Since moons tend to have no or very thin atmospheres, finding oxygen on them would be hard, and free oxygen would probably be the best proof of life that we can find on exoplanets with current technology. So even though moons probably are likely places for life, it will be very hard to prove its there.
      • Titan has an atmosphere, and from what I understand it is very similar to that of a primodial Earth. Had Saturn been located within the Sun's habitable zone, I don't see any reason why complex life could've evolved there. Its not out of the question therefore for an exomoon to have an oxygen atmosphere.

        Another possible location for life is on icy moons of a further away gas giant. In our solar system such moons emit water vapour from their surfaces. This may be an avenue for detection.

I've got a bad feeling about this.