Forum für Wissenschaft, Industrie und Wirtschaft

Hauptsponsoren:     3M 
Datenbankrecherche:

 

Hunt for Distant Planets Intensifies

20.02.2013
When astronomers discovered planet GJ 1214b circling a star more than 47 light-years from Earth in 2009, their data presented two possibilities. Either it was a mini-Neptune shrouded in a thick atmosphere of hydrogen and helium, or it was a water world nearly three times the size of Earth.

Along came Jacob Bean, now an assistant professor in astronomy & astrophysics at the University of Chicago, who used a new method called multi-object spectroscopy to analyze the planet’s atmosphere from large, ground-based telescopes. Aided by technology, Bean and his colleagues are surmounting the challenge of inferring the atmospheric composition of planets that were invisible to humans just a few years ago.

“We’re trying to distinguish whether it’s like the gas giants we know about, or something fundamentally different from what we’ve seen in our solar system — an atmosphere predominantly composed of water,” Bean said.

The search for exoplanets - planets beyond our own solar system - has taken off over the last decade, and is now a growing component of UChicago’s research agenda in astronomy. One estimate published in January calculated that our Milky Way galaxy alone contains at least 17 billion Earth-sized planets, with a vast potential for life-sustaining worlds. Pursuing the exoplanet search via complementary methods are Bean and Daniel Fabrycky, another assistant professor in astronomy & astrophysics.

Bean has received a 60-orbit allocation on the Hubble Space Telescope to continue his observations on GJ 1214b, a sign of the work’s importance. Previous HST studies of planetary atmospheres encompassed 10 to 20 orbits. Bean will use a technique called transmission spectroscopy to measure the chemical composition of the planet’s atmosphere with unprecedented precision.

A big prize

A definitive assessment of the planet’s atmosphere could lead to a larger prize: learning how to detect potential signs of alien life on a cosmically distant Earth twin. The atmospheric signature of life on an exoplanet presumably would contain some mixture of oxygen and various other gases.

Planetary scientists are conducting theoretical studies to narrow the range of possibilities.

“It’s interesting to note that all the instruments astronomers have used to study exoplanet atmospheres so far were never designed for that,” Bean said. “We’re using them in very unusual ways. We do what we can with what we have.”

But now Bean aims to build a system that is perfectly suited and well optimized to study exoplanet atmospheres, including that of GJ 1214b.

“The current data suggest an atmosphere predominately composed of water, but it’s not a definitive result yet,” Bean said. “There could be even more exotic scenarios possible that we’re not able to rule out.”

If GJ 1214b is a water world, “It would be very different than anything in our own solar system,” said Harvard University astronomy Professor David Charbonneau, whose team discovered the planet.

Deep questions

The search taps into some of modern science’s deepest questions: Are humans alone in the cosmos, and is our life-sustaining world unique? One of the earliest writers to speculate about exoplanets was the Italian philosopher and scientist Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600 for espousing beliefs that the Catholic Church deemed heretical.

In one prescient passage, Bruno wrote, “In space there are countless constellations, suns and planets; we see only the suns because they give light; the planets remain invisible, for they are small and dark. There are also numberless earths circling around their suns, no worse and no less than this globe of ours.”

Discoveries of new exoplanets have flowed like oil from a gushing wellhead in recent years. The number has topped 850 and continues to climb.

Starting in the 1990s, exoplanet hunters initially were only able to find giant, Jupiter-like gas planets because they were bigger and thus easier to find. “They were closer to their stars than Jupiter is from the sun, so we nicknamed them ‘hot Jupiters,’” Charbonneau said.

But in recent years, scientists began pursuing a new, more interesting goal: find planets that are more Earthlike. One major push along that front was the $600-million Kepler mission, launched in 2009. This mission, encompassing a 100-member science team, is conducting a survey of planets orbiting other sun-like stars.

“Kepler is on the cusp of finding small planets in the habitable zone around both sun-like and small stars,” Fabrycky said. “This is the goal of the mission, and it’s almost there.”

New research frontiers at UChicago

A Kepler research veteran, Fabrycky began his UChicago faculty appointment last October. Fabrycky precisely measures the timing of transits, the mini eclipses that planets cause as they pass in front of their stars. Timing inconsistencies in the transits often result from the gravitational influence of other planets.

So far Kepler has 105 confirmed planet discoveries to its credit, and has identified 2,740 planet candidates. As a postdoctoral scientist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, two years ago, Fabrycky was a member of a team that discovered six planets orbiting a single star called Kepler-11. “Kepler-11 is hanging on — for the moment — as the one with the most number of planet signals” among exoplanetary systems, Fabrycky said.

Bean and his colleagues have made the best observations of planetary atmospheres so far using the Hubble Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and, in Chile, the Very Large Telescope array and the twin Magellan Telescopes. But the planned Giant Magellan Telescope, of which UChicago is a founding partner, and the forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope should eclipse the capabilities of today’s observatories when they go into service late this decade.

The new telescopes will be able to do the same sort of exoplanetary atmospheric studies underway now, “but actually do it for the smaller planets that might even be habitable,” Charbonneau said.

Steve Koppes | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.uchicago.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Introducing the disposable laser
04.05.2016 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht New fabrication and thermo-optical tuning of whispering gallery microlasers
04.05.2016 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Sei mit STARS4ALL dabei, wenn Merkur vor die Sonne wandert

2012 war es die Venus, in diesem Jahr ist der Planet Merkur dran, vor der Sonne zu passieren. Für fast acht Stunden werden wir am 9. Mai 2016 die Möglichkeit haben, den Planeten Merkur als kleinen schwarzen Punkt auf der Oberfläche der Sonne durchziehen zu sehen. Das EU-Projekt STARS4ALL, an dem auch das IGB beteiligt ist, wird in Zusammenarbeit mit www.sky-live.tv das Phänomen von Teneriffa und von Island aus live übertragen. STARS4ALL bietet dazu Bildungsmaterial für Schüler an.

Am 9. Mai 2016, um die Mittagszeit, wird der Planet Merkur anfangen, die Scheibe der Sonne zu kreuzen; eine Reise, welche über sieben Stunden dauern wird.

Im Focus: MICROSCOPE sendet

Am Montag, 2. Mai 2016, erreichte die Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler vom Zentrum für angewandte Raumfahrttechnologie und Mikrogravitation (ZARM) der Universität Bremen die erste Erfolgsmeldung von ihrem Forschungs-Satelliten. Per Videoübertragung waren sie zugeschaltet, als die französischen Kollegen das Experiment an Bord von MICROSCOPE (MICRO Satellite à traînée Compensée pour l'Observation du Principe d'Equivalence) initialisierten und das Messinstrument die ersten Testdaten übermittelte. Damit ist der wichtigste Meilenstein der Testphase erreicht, bevor sich herausstellt, ob Einsteins Relativitätstheorie auch nach dieser Satellitenmission noch Bestand haben wird.

“#TSAGE @onera_fr is on. The test masses have been released and servo looped!!!! Great all green“ lautet die Twitter-Nachricht der französischen Partner, die...

Im Focus: Genauester Spiegel der Welt bei European XFEL in Hamburg eingetroffen

Der vermutlich präziseste Spiegel der Welt ist bei European XFEL in der Metropolregion Hamburg eingetroffen. Der 95 Zentimeter lange Spiegel ist ein wichtiges Bauteil des Röntgenlasers, der 2017 in Betrieb gehen soll. Auf den ersten Blick sieht er einem normalen Spiegel durchaus ähnlich, ist jedoch extrem flach und glatt. Die größten Unebenheiten auf seiner Oberfläche haben eine Dimension von gerade einmal einem Nanometer, einem milliardstel Meter. Diese Präzision entspräche einer 40 Kilometer langen Straße, deren maximale Unebenheit gerade einmal so groß ist wie der Durchmesser eines Haars.

Der Röntgenspiegel ist der erste von mehreren, die an unterschiedlichen Stellen der Anlage zum Spiegeln und Filtern des Röntgenlaserstrahls eingebaut werden....

Im Focus: Erste Filmaufnahmen von Kernporen

Mithilfe eines extrem schnellen und präzisen Rasterkraftmikroskops haben Forscher der Universität Basel erstmals «lebendige» Kernporenkomplexe bei der Arbeit gefilmt. Kernporen sind molekulare Maschinen, die den Verkehr in und aus dem Zellkern kontrollieren. In ihrem kürzlich in «Nature Nanotechnology» publizierten Artikel erklären die Forscher, wie bewegliche «Tentakeln» in der Pore die Passage von unerwünschten Molekülen verhindern.

Das Rasterkraftmikroskop (AFM) ist kein Mikroskop zum Durchschauen. Es tastet wie ein Blinder mit seinen Fingern die Oberflächen mit einer extrem feinen Spitze...

Im Focus: Nuclear Pores Captured on Film

Using an ultra fast-scanning atomic force microscope, a team of researchers from the University of Basel has filmed “living” nuclear pore complexes at work for the first time. Nuclear pores are molecular machines that control the traffic entering or exiting the cell nucleus. In their article published in Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers explain how the passage of unwanted molecules is prevented by rapidly moving molecular “tentacles” inside the pore.

Using high-speed AFM, Roderick Lim, Argovia Professor at the Biozentrum and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute of the University of Basel, has not only directly...

Alle Focus-News des Innovations-reports >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

IHR
JOB & KARRIERE
SERVICE
im innovations-report
in Kooperation mit academics
Veranstaltungen

Diabetes Kongress in Berlin beginnt heute

04.05.2016 | Veranstaltungen

UFW-Fachtagung im Vorzeichen von Big Data und Industrie 4.0

03.05.2016 | Veranstaltungen

analytica conference 2016 in München - Foodomics, mehr als nur ein Modebegriff?

03.05.2016 | Veranstaltungen

 
B2B-VideoLinks
Weitere VideoLinks >>>
Aktuelle Beiträge

Beim Laden von Lithium-Luft-Akkus entsteht hochreaktiver Singulett-Sauerstoff

04.05.2016 | Energie und Elektrotechnik

Sei mit STARS4ALL dabei, wenn Merkur vor die Sonne wandert

04.05.2016 | Physik Astronomie

Mehr als eine mechanische Barriere - Epithelzellen kämpfen aktiv gegen das Grippevirus

04.05.2016 | Biowissenschaften Chemie