LightFingerprints Help Astronomers ID Exoplanets

first_img Scientists Discover Possible Interstellar VisitorWater Vapor Detected on Potentially ‘Habitable’ Planet Next time, on CSI: Outer Space—astronomers use “light-fingerprints” to uncover the mysteries of exoplanets.Researchers at Cornell University catalogued 19 of the Solar System’s most diverse bodies, in hopes of finding the next Earth-like world.The inventory, compiled by Lisa Kaltenegger and Jack Madden of the university’s Carl Sagan Institute, features known spectra and albedos (the ratio of reflected light) of various planets, moons, and dwarf planets.“We use our Solar System and all we know about its incredible diversity of fascinating worlds as our Rosetta Stone,” Kaltenegger, an associate professor of astronomy and director of the Institute, said in a statement.“With this catalog of ‘light-fingerprints,’ we will be able to compare new observations of exoplanets to objects in our own Solar System,” she continued, citing the gaseous globes of Jupiter and Saturn, the icy nature of Europa, the volcanic terrain of Io, “and our own life-filled planet.”Freely available on the Carl Sagan Institute website, the index includes high- and low-resolution versions of the data, and offers examples of how the colors of 19 Solar System models would change if they were orbiting stars other than our Sun.The full study, “A Catalog of Spectra, Albedos and Colors of Solar System Bodies for Exoplanet Comparison,” was published online in the journal Astrobiology, and is set to be featured on the print edition’s December cover.“Planetary science broke new ground in the ’70s and ’80s with spectral measurements for Solar System bodies. Exoplanet science will see similar renaissance in the near future,” according to doctoral candidate Madden, lead author of the study.Starting with this catalog, which enables scientists to prioritize time-intensive, high-resolution observations, and makes it easier to correctly categorize discoveries.“We are entering a new age of observational ability, so we need a reference catalog of all the planets and moons we already know, to compare these new exoplanet spectra to,” Madden said.Exoplanet hunting is all the rage: NASA recently sent its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into space on a two-year hunt for undiscovered worlds. Intended to “cast a wider net than ever before,” the spacecraft serves as a sort of precursor to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, heading into orbit in 2021.Other large ground-based spyglasses currently in the works, including the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope, will go a long way toward illuminating the cosmos.“By unraveling the mysteries of the objects in our own Solar System,” Kaltenegger said, “we can glimpse the secrets of these new worlds we are finding.”Reference spectra catalog of a diverse set of bodies in the Solar System to compare to exoplanet observations (via Carl Sagan Institute/Cornell University)The solar system is a vast as our coverage of it. Stay up to date on all the discoveries in space here.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. Stay on targetlast_img

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