Sasselov said rocky planets up to five times Earth’s size should be detectable with the new generation of instruments coming on line such as the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative’s spectrometer equipped with the new laser astro-comb, developed at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The spectrometer which will be deployed in the Canary Islands for exoplanet research sometime in 2010.
“Five times larger than Earth is actually pretty good from the point of view of geochemistry and biochemistry,” Sasselov said. “Ultimately, we want to go down to sister Earths, as people call it. It’s my personal belief that super-Earths are as hospitable to life as Earths, but we need to compare them. People want to know if there are planets just like ours out there.”
The second major finding to emerge from the conference shows that researchers can get an idea of conditions on any planets that they do find, Sasselov said. Presented by Harvard’s Cabot Associate Professor of Astronomy David Charbonneau, the results presented the first compilation of the atmospheric spectrum of a planet orbiting another star.
The spectrum, put together for the atmosphere of a gas giant 60 light-years away, uses the light emitted or absorbed by the planet to detect what molecules are present in the atmosphere, in this case, methane, potassium, sodium, water vapor, and small particulate haze, among others. Though researchers have been able to detect single elements that make up the atmosphere of planets since 2001, this is the first time the complete makeup of the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet has been determined.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Getting closer to finding Earth-like planets in other solar systems. Though "Earth-like" is a relative concept: