Alien Planet Boldly Glows Where No Light Has Glowed Before

Space is a frontier that remains largely a mystery. The vast majority of it remains unexplored, and there are many unanswered questions as to how many of the things we find in space function. Nearly every quadrant has new discoveries waiting to happen. As our technology continues to improve, astronomers are becoming more and more adept at discovering new and exciting things in our night sky.

A big new step forward in astronomy came this week when astronomers were able to measure the visible light spectrum of an alien planet for the very first time. Scientists used the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (a HARPS instrument) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile to study the spectrum of visible light reflected by an exoplanet roughly 50 light-years away from Earth.

The exoplanet was sighted next to its parent star in the constellation Pegasus and was named 51 Pegasi b. Obviously, trying to gain information about a speck of light 50 light years away is not easy. Often, astronomers can study the atmospheres of faraway planets by analyzing the starlight that passes through them. This is known as transit spectroscopy, and its use is limited to systems where planets and stars line up.

By using transit spectroscopy, scientists gained a number of key advantages as they attempted to learn more about this alien planet. Not only were they able to estimate the planet’s reflectivity, it’s orbital inclination, and it’s real mass that are all essential data points in gaining further knowledge about the system. Their finding led them to classify 51 Pegasi b as a gas giant, a little bigger and much hotter than the Jupiter we have in our solar system.

This first successful use of HARPS and transit spectroscopy has proved incredibly fruitful, providing vital evidence for the necessity of its use in further studies of distant planetary systems. Scientists hope that this technique will enable them to gain greater knowledge about neighboring heavenly bodies and beyond.

Instrument Systems CAS 140CT Spectrophotometer is capable of measuring light emissions and can determine the spectral content from 200nm up to 2500nm.

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