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Space Science

Astronomers Develop Method For Detecting Faint Exoplanets 30

SGDK664 writes "The University of Arizona's astronomers have developed a way to see faint planets previously hidden by the overwhelming light output of the star they orbit (abstract). At the core of the system is a small piece of glass with a highly complex pattern inscribed into its surface. Called an Apodizing Phase Plate, or APP, the device blocks out the starlight in a very defined way, allowing planets to show up in the image whose signals were previously drowned out by the star's glare. The breakthrough, which may allow observers to even block out starlight completely with further refinements, was made possible through highly complex mathematical modeling. If you're trying to find something that is thousands or a million times fainter than the star, dealing with the halo is a big challenge."
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Astronomers Develop Method For Detecting Faint Exoplanets

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  • by thrillseeker ( 518224 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @02:32PM (#33919062)
    there's an APP for that ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There is actually: Exoplanet,

  • by WoRLoKKeD ( 1142351 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @02:51PM (#33919168)

    Personally, I'm a fan of the "Get the Swiss to confirm or deny it" tactic.

  • by gaspar ilom ( 859751 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @03:25PM (#33919318)

    If this technology were combined with a space-based infrared-interferometer [], we could be detecting the chemical signatures of life around hundreds of nearby star systems -- and resolving continents on many more planets -- possibly, before extraterrestrial microbial life is definitively proven to exist in our own solar system.

    • an interferometer can destructively cancel light from the central star, allowing planets to be more clearly resolved
    • the difference in brightness between the central star, and objects orbiting it, is less in the infrared spectrum
    • This wonderful man [] was a professor of mine. In one of the many courses I took with him he walked us through how planets could be directly imaged with a space based interferometer. That was probably in '97. And I see by your link that the actual Terrestrial Planet Finder mission was postponed indefinitely in 2007. It looks like even if they were magically funded now that the earliest launch would be in 2015-16: []
  • by Target Practice ( 79470 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @04:25PM (#33919688)

    Oddly enough, when held to candlelight at night on the open ocean, a maddening text is cast from the glass onto the cabin's walls: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"

    Just what exactly are these so-called scientists awakening? What powers do the far seeing crystals truly hold?

    • From chapter 2 [] of call of cthulhu :

      They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      If you focus it better, it really reads, "Made in China. All rights reserved".

  • Attribution (Score:3, Informative)

    by Framboise ( 521772 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @05:41PM (#33920094)

    Well, university of Arizona did contributes to this work, but from the 9 author institute list it arrives in the 8th position

    1 Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich, Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse 27, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland
    2 Sterrewacht Leiden, P.O. Box 9513, Niels Bohrweg 2, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
    3 European Southern Observatory, Alonso de Córdova 3107, Vitacura, Cassilla 19001, Santiago, Chile
    4 European Southern Observatory, Karl Schwarzschild Strasse, 2, 85748 Garching bei München, Germany
    5 Laboratoire dAstrophysique, Observatoire de Grenoble, Université Joseph Fourier, CNRS, BP 53, F-38041 Grenoble, France
    6 Space Telesope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA
    7 LESIA, UMR 8109 CNRS, Observatoire de Paris, UPMC, Université Paris-Diderot, 5 place J. Janssen, 92195 Meudon, France
    8 Steward Observatory, The University of Arizona, 933 N. Cherry Ave., Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
    9 Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Königstuhl 17, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany

    • The eight author (Philip M. Hinz) seems to work at the Steward Observatory in Tucson, AZ. The article says that the observations were done at the VLT (Very Large Telescope) at the ESO (European Southern Observatory) on Paranal mountain in Chile. However, Hinz may deserve substantial credit, since he was part of a team that actually used an APP for the first time, according to this article []. That article did not look for exoplanets, but the astronomers did successfully image a faint companion for the star
      • Even in the original article, it states that a UA guy had the idea and developed the theory on this. Basically, we are canceling out the starlight halo that otherwise would drown out the light signal of the planet," said Johanan (John) Codona, a senior research scientist at the UA's Steward Observatory who developed the theory behind the technique, which he calls phase-apodization coronagraphy.
        In many science papers, all sorts of ppl will try to claim credit for contributing so much as a paper clip. In
  • Cough Drop (Score:4, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Saturday October 16, 2010 @06:26PM (#33920344) Journal

    Caption: "Similar in size and shape to a cough drop, the Apodizing Phase Plate causes light waves coming from a star to interfere with each other, exposing the faint glow of a nearby planet."

    Mark: "I can't find that new 20-million-dollar lens. I know it was around here somewhere."

    Bob: "I haven't seen it either. Gee, these new cough drops suck, by the way. You have to bite extra hard on them."

  • "Apodizing"? Is that something that's geard towards producing amazing pictures fit for APOD, i.e. Astronomy Picture Of the Day []?
    • by arielCo ( 995647 )
      Wikipedia to the rescue []

      In optical design jargon, an apodization function is used to purposely change the input intensity profile of an optical system, and may be a complicated function to tailor the system to certain properties. Usually it refers to a non-uniform illumination or transmission profile that approaches zero at the edges.

      Apodization is used in telescope optics in order to improve the dynamic range of the image. For example, stars with low intensity in the close vicinity of very bright stars can be made visible using this technique, and even images of planets can be obtained when otherwise obscured by the bright atmosphere of the star they orbit. Generally, apodization reduces the resolution of an optical image; however, because it reduces diffraction edge effects, it can actually enhance certain small details.

      Ain't it wonderful?

  • Well, I suppose it's a slightly different technique than the one demonstrated last year []... maybe this APP thingy will show us dimmer exoplanets or something.

  • This seems like a really exciting advance especially seeing as it's already been used on the VLT with some nice results. The notion that it could be used to block the star's halo completely is also great. I wonder if it could be incorporated into the Terrestrial Planet Finder (assuming that project starts moving again some time)?

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright