Absense of light reveals exoplanet atmospheres

News Avalanche

Exoplanets are uncanny. Some seem to have walked directly out of the best science-fiction movies. For example, we’ve discovered a planet consisting purely of water (GJ 1214b) and one with two suns (Kepler 16b). Some planets nearly scrape their host stars once every orbit, while others exist in darkness without a host star at all. The field of exoplanet research is moving beyond detecting exoplanets to characterizing them – understanding which molecules are present and if they might possibly harbor life.

A key research element in characterizing these alien worlds is observing their atmospheres. But how exactly do astronomers do this? We can’t simply tug the planet toward us to get a closer look.  It’s also incredibly difficult to directly image their atmospheres from afar.  Why? Stars are incredibly bright in comparison to their puny, barely reflective, and nearby exoplanets. So a direct image of an exoplanet’s…

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This entry was posted in Science.

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