Light-fingerprints Help Researchers Identify Exoplanets

Posted: Aug 4 2018, 9:53pm CDT | by , Updated: Aug 6 2018, 12:04am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Light-fingerprints Help Researchers Identify Exoplanets
Jupiter with the albedo. Credit: Jack Madden/NASA

Researchers have created a reference catalog using the light reflected by the surface of wide range of solar system bodies

There are potentially thousands of planets that lurk outside our solar system. These exoplanets come in many different forms and sizes, from gas giants like Jupiter to small rocky planets like Earth and Mars. But their appearance can be deceiving. The complex nature of exoplanets makes it hard for researchers to understand the conditions under which they form and evolve.

To solve the problem, researchers from Cornell University have created a reference catalog using calibrated spectra and geometric albedos or the light reflected by a surface. The catalog includes 19 of the most diverse bodies in our solar system: all eight planets, nine moons, and two dwarf planets. One dwarf planet Ceres resides asteroid belt while Pluto is located in Kuiper Belt.

By comparing observed spectra and albedos of exoplanets to this catalog, researchers will be able to better characterize these objects. These light-fingerprints will open a new window for understanding alien worlds.

“We use our own solar system and all we know about its incredible diversity of fascinating worlds as our Rosetta Stone," said co-author Lisa Kaltenegger from Carl Sagan Institute. "With this catalog of light-fingerprints, we will be able to compare new observations of exoplanets to objects in our own solar system – including the gaseous worlds of Jupiter and Saturn, the icy worlds of Europa, the volcanic world of Io and our own life-filled planet.”

The catalog not only shows researchers the actual influence of spectral resolution on an object's identification but also theorize how the colors of the 19 solar system bodies would change if they were orbiting stars other than our sun. In 2021, the launch of James Webb Telescope will make measurements of the properties of some of these worlds much easier, leading to a better understanding of their characteristics and origins.

"Planetary science broke new ground in the '70s and '80s with spectral measurements for solar system bodies. Exoplanet science will see a similar renaissance in the near future," said the lead author of the study Jack Madden.

"The technology to directly collect the light from Earth-sized planets around other stars is currently in a clean room waiting to be assembled and trained on the right target. With the upcoming launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and the current construction of large ground-based telescopes such as the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope, 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."

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