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Space Science

Spectrum of Light Captured From Distant World 32

An anonymous reader writes with this excerpt from Cosmos: "Astronomers have made the first direct capture of a spectrum of light from a planet outside the Solar System and are deciphering its composition. The light was snared from a giant planet that orbits a bright young star called HR 8799 about 130 light-years from Earth, said the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ... The find is important, because hidden within a light spectrum are clues about the relative amounts of different elements in the planet's atmosphere. 'The features observed in the spectrum are not compatible with current theoretical models,' said co-author Wolfgang Brandner. 'We need to take into account a more detailed description of the atmospheric dust clouds, or accept that the atmosphere has a different chemical composition from that previously assumed.' The result represents a milestone in the search for life elsewhere in the universe, said the ESO. Until now, astronomers have been able to get only an indirect light sample from an exoplanet, as worlds beyond our Solar System are called. They do this by measuring the spectrum of a star twice — while an orbiting exoplanet passes near to the front of it, and again while the planet is directly behind it. The planet's spectrum is thus calculated by subtracting one light sample from another."
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Spectrum of Light Captured From Distant World

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  • To Whom it May Concern:

    Pursuant to Title II of the Digital Galactic Copyright Act ("DGCA"), namely, the Interstellar Copyright Infringement Liability Act, you are hereby notified that certain potential copyright infringing materials are currently hosted by you. This letter serves as written notification of claimed infringement. ...

  • That's not a spectrum. That's a hyperintelligent shade of blue! Quickly, grab a prism!
  • Reflected Light (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ISoldat53 ( 977164 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:52PM (#30791116)
    The recap says that astronomers have until now only been able to get indirect light samples. Isn't all of the light from a planet indirect?
    • Re:Reflected Light (Score:4, Informative)

      by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @01:01PM (#30791190)

      To be a smart ass, no, not all light from a planet is indirect. For instance Jupiter is releasing light in the infra-red spectrum that is not reflected nor absorbed & re-radiated from the sun. Due to its size and mass it retains a great deal of heat from its gravitational contraction and any internal radioactive decay. Jupiter is currently emitting more energy that it is receiving form the sun.

      Though in this case I believe they are refering to reflected | absorbed & re-radiated light instead of starlight filtering through the atmosphere. The first produces chemical emission lines while the later negates them from the stars emissions.

    • No.
      *turns on flashlight*
    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      More nitpicking, adding to what Nadaka said ;)

      Planets do radiate direct light, as any body above 0 K would do, through black body radiation. It's just of rather low intensity and not in the visible spectrum...

  • by StupendousMan ( 69768 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:55PM (#30791134) Homepage
    Astronomers have measured transmission spectra of a planet circling the star HD 209458 and a planet circling the star HD 189733 (and probably others). The first successful measurements, which found sodium in the spectrum of HD 209458b, were published by Charbonneau et al. in 2002. See ApJ 568, 377 (2002) [].
    • by floateyedumpi ( 187299 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:08PM (#30791774)

      The article is wrong on many levels. The key word here is "direct". The 2002 transmission spectra you mention (and others like it) consist of light from the host star, passing through the atmosphere of the planet as it passes in front of it, which imprints spectral signatures of the planetary atmosphere on that stellar spectrum. So in this sense, its not a direct spectrum of the planet's own light, but of the star, modified by the planet in front of it.

      The first spectrum of a planet [], consisting only of planetary light, came from the Spitzer Space Telescope, which used a differencing technique:

      planet + star [out of eclipse] - star [when planet eclipsed] = planet only

      The star and planet could not be resolved (separated) by the telescope, but by using the known orbit of this eclipsing planetary system, and timing the observations carefully, a spectrum of the "planet's own light" was obtained.

      The novelty of this latest result is that no differencing of this sort was required. Using adaptive optics to correct distortions due to Earth's atmosphere, the light from a star and the light from its associated giant planet where physically resolved, and a spectrum of the planet, all by itself, was obtained. Even with adaptive optics, however, very few systems have star-planet separations on the sky large enough to permit this technique.

  • In our lifetime... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Saturday January 16, 2010 @01:56PM (#30791658)

    I always have to think, that it’s practically a sure thing, that we will see alien life forms doing their thing on their planet, in our lifetime.

    With the current (as always exponential) rate of telescope development, we will get to a Google-maps-like resolution or even better. And meanwhile search as many of the previously in other ways detected planets an new planets for signs of life (e.g. non-natural structures and fast changes.)

    Now if we narrow down to the right planets and spaces in the right solar systems, we will find life. Or what was once life. Maybe even life that is more advanced than ours.

    Then it’s just a matter of setting up a video feed. Because I doubt that once life is found, anyone will dare to turn its eyes off of it for even a second, until we know very well what’s going on there.

    I just wish that day would be today...

    • With the current (as always exponential) rate of telescope development, we will get to a Google-maps-like resolution or even better.

      No need to go that far - all we need is to find a planet, using a somewhat higher resolution method than that in TFA, that has an atmosphere with the right temperature and composition for life, and then see if that atmosphere contains chemicals that do not occur in nature and are the byproduct of basic industrial processes. Essentially, find a planet with air pollution, and you've probably found a planet with intelligent life.

      • Sorry but that is making an awful lot of assumptions, based on the false belief, that aliens would have to be similar to us. They won’t. Because the only reason that makes us think they do, is an artifact of our knowledge being most detailed in our realm, and our thoughts revolving the most around it too.

        Also: I want my quirky alien videos! And whatever their children want, when ours would want a pony! ;)
        And rule 36! :D

      • >Essentially, find a planet with air pollution, and you've probably found a planet with unintelligent life.

        There, fixed that for you. Apart from the normal anthropomorphic assumption.

    • by Urkki ( 668283 )

      With the current (as always exponential) rate of telescope development, we will get to a Google-maps-like resolution or even better.

      Well... No. There's the small practical issue of number of actual rphotons arriving from the planet to the telescope. No amount of technology is going to change that (well, except using space travel technology to get closer...).

      I'm not saying there isn't room for improvement for a long time yet, and ultimately, with enough photons collected, for many enough revolutions of the target planet, a very detailed map could be made (which would automatically be map of the entire surface). But not in our lifetime.

  • Just Wow. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by __aapspi39 ( 944843 )

    It's a definite milestone to be able to peer into the composition of an exoplanet. Huge congratulations to the guys and girls that pulled this off.

    Developing the ability to do the same with stars was probably one of the most important steps in the history of astronomy. This may not seem to have the broad reaching implications and novelty of that discovery, but if it provides us with evidence for alien life then it will clearly be right up there.

  • Forgive my cynicism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BigBadBus ( 653823 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @02:17PM (#30791840) Homepage
    ...but I recall the excited, breathless publicity that occurred after a science team announced that they had captured spectroscopic details of a planet's atmosphere and announced that it contained sufficient sodium to give it a yellowish tinge...then a second team, trying to verify the findings of the first, found nothing! We should wait and see....
  • Am I the only person who read that as a giant plane that orbits a bright young star called HR 8799?
  • I can't find information about the spectra in the links. How was it different? Were percentages different? Was something unexpected found? Is it composed of green dragons, fairies and teddybears? How about some substance to the news?

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