First laboratory simulation of exoplanet atmospheric chemistry

ScienceDaily | 3/8/2018 | Staff
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The simulations are necessary to establish models of the atmospheres of far-distant worlds, models that can be used to look for signs of life outside the solar system. Results of the studies appeared this week in Nature Astronomy.

"One of the reasons why we're starting to do this work is to understand if having a haze layer on these planets would make them more or less habitable," said the paper's lead author, Sarah Hörst, assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at the Johns Hopkins University.

Telescopes - Today - Scientists - Astronomers - Gases

With telescopes available today, planetary scientists and astronomers can learn what gases make up the atmospheres of exoplanets. "Each gas has a fingerprint that's unique to it," Hörst said. "If you measure a large enough spectral range, you can look at how all the fingerprints are superimposed on top of each other."

Current telescopes, however, do not work as well with every type of exoplanet. They fall short with exoplanets that have hazy atmospheres. Haze consists of solid particles suspended in gas, altering the way light interacts with the gas. This muting of spectral fingerprints makes measuring the gas composition more challenging.

Hörst - Research - Exoplanet - Science - Community

Hörst believes this research can help the exoplanet science community determine which types of atmospheres are likely to be hazy. With haze clouding up a telescope's ability to tell scientists which gases make up an exoplanet's atmosphere -- if not the amounts of them -- our ability to detect life elsewhere is a murkier prospect.

Planets larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune, called super-Earths and mini-Neptunes, are the predominant types of exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system. As this class of planets is not found in our solar system, our limited knowledge makes them more difficult to study.

Launch - James - Webb - Space - Telescope

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