Hunting molecules to find new planets

ScienceDaily | 6/18/2018 | Staff
jster97 (Posted by) Level 3
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Until now, astronomers could only very rarely directly observe the exoplanets they discovered, as they are masked by the enormous luminous intensity of their stars. Only a few planets located very far from their host stars could be distinguished on a picture, in particular thanks to the SPHERE instrument installed on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, and similar instruments elsewhere. Jens Hoeijmakers, researcher at the Astronomy Department of the Observatory of the Faculty of Science of the UNIGE and member of NCCR PlanetS, wondered if it would be possible to trace the molecular composition of the planets. "By focusing on molecules present only on the studied exoplanet that are absent from its host star, our technique would effectively "erase" the star,leaving only the exoplanet," he explains.

To test this new technique, Jens Hoeijmakers and an international team of astronomers used archival images taken by the SINFONI instrument of the star beta pictoris, which is known to be orbited by a giant planet, beta pictoris b. Each pixel in these images contains the spectrum of light received by that pixel. The astronomers then compared the spectrum contained in the pixel with a spectrum corresponding to a given molecule, for example water vapour, to see if there is a correlation. If there is a correlation, it means that the molecule...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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