Friday, April 24, 2015

Detection of Light Bouncing Off An Exoplanet—A First!

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Detection of Light Bouncing Off An Exoplanet—A First

By Joseph Stromberg

it could help us identify which planets
are habitable — and may contain life

      A team of Portuguese astronomers has detected light bouncing directly off the surface of an exoplanet for the first time.

Why is this a big deal? Studying the light reflecting from exoplanets can give us clues about the gases present in that planet's atmosphere. That could help researchers identify which planets are habitable and may contain life.

Until now, we've discovered about 1,900 exoplanets, but we've only seen the vast majority of them indirectly — most often by noticing when they pass in front of their stars, causing a momentary dip in light. In a few cases, we've also detected tiny amounts of starlight passing through planets' atmospheres at the same time.

This new technique, looking at light reflecting off of planets directly, could open up a much bigger range of distant planets' atmospheres for study in future years — especially if it's employed by the next generation of even bigger telescopes currently under construction. . . .

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