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Astronomers Develop Method For Detecting Faint Exoplanets

Soulskill posted about 4 years ago | from the blinded-by-the-light dept.

Space 30

SGDK664 writes "The University of Arizona's astronomers have developed a way to see faint planets previously hidden by the overwhelming light output of the star they orbit (abstract). At the core of the system is a small piece of glass with a highly complex pattern inscribed into its surface. Called an Apodizing Phase Plate, or APP, the device blocks out the starlight in a very defined way, allowing planets to show up in the image whose signals were previously drowned out by the star's glare. The breakthrough, which may allow observers to even block out starlight completely with further refinements, was made possible through highly complex mathematical modeling. If you're trying to find something that is thousands or a million times fainter than the star, dealing with the halo is a big challenge."

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we need better science! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33918898)

like detecting my balls.

Oh.. they are on your chin... my bad.. dribble dribble

Re:we need better science! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33919542)

This story is about telescopes, not electron microscopes.

Re:we need better science! (4, Funny)

sunspot42 (455706) | about 4 years ago | (#33920086)

Oh, c'mon! That was a good comeback! "Redundant"? Humorless troll.

Back in the mid-'80s my Junior year English teacher told me a great anecdote about a time she'd volunteered to man the phones at the local PBS station's annual pledge drive. It was a bunch of teachers and former teachers working the phones that night, including one retired octogenarian schoolmarm who looked pretty frail (who wouldn't be worn out after decades in the classroom?).

Anyhow, some smartass called into the station and got routed to this poor elderly lady. He immediately blurted out, "I'd like to donate my cock!" Without missing a beat, the old woman replied, "I'm sorry sir, we don't accept small donations," and hung up the phone.

I've always hoped he got to see on his tee vee which operator delivered that burn.

Old schoolteachers - don't try to pull anything on them, because they've heard it all.

oh hay (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33918928)

Re:oh hay (-1, Offtopic)

Flushdot Is Bad (1921064) | about 4 years ago | (#33919048)



terrible signal to noise ratio? (3, Funny)

thrillseeker (518224) | about 4 years ago | (#33919062)

there's an APP for that ...

Re:terrible signal to noise ratio? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33919156)


Re:terrible signal to noise ratio? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33919178)

There is actually: Exoplanet,

well said sir (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33919450)

Here's another sire with information on it:

Nothing new here ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33919132)

This technique is just a slight improvement over the method first used by Galileo which he called
holding up his thumb to blot out the star and squinting.

Re:Nothing new here ... (4, Funny)

CarpetShark (865376) | about 4 years ago | (#33919152)

Since Galileo's fleshy thumb is no longer available, we've had to find another solution.

Whatever works. (3, Funny)

WoRLoKKeD (1142351) | about 4 years ago | (#33919168)

Personally, I'm a fan of the "Get the Swiss to confirm or deny it" tactic.

Obviously it would be astronomers. (-1)

line-bundle (235965) | about 4 years ago | (#33919246)

It'd be headline news if it had been dentists instead. Now that would be real news!

let's build more aircraft carriers, instead (5, Interesting)

gaspar ilom (859751) | about 4 years ago | (#33919318)

If this technology were combined with a space-based infrared-interferometer [] , we could be detecting the chemical signatures of life around hundreds of nearby star systems -- and resolving continents on many more planets -- possibly, before extraterrestrial microbial life is definitively proven to exist in our own solar system.

  • an interferometer can destructively cancel light from the central star, allowing planets to be more clearly resolved
  • the difference in brightness between the central star, and objects orbiting it, is less in the infrared spectrum

Re:let's build more aircraft carriers, instead (1)

DarthBender (1071972) | about 4 years ago | (#33920114)

This wonderful man [] was a professor of mine. In one of the many courses I took with him he walked us through how planets could be directly imaged with a space based interferometer. That was probably in '97. And I see by your link that the actual Terrestrial Planet Finder mission was postponed indefinitely in 2007. It looks like even if they were magically funded now that the earliest launch would be in 2015-16: []

Intersting patterns in the glass (3, Funny)

Target Practice (79470) | about 4 years ago | (#33919688)

Oddly enough, when held to candlelight at night on the open ocean, a maddening text is cast from the glass onto the cabin's walls: "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"

Just what exactly are these so-called scientists awakening? What powers do the far seeing crystals truly hold?

Re:Intersting patterns in the glass (1)

whatajoke (1625715) | about 4 years ago | (#33920010)

From chapter 2 [] of call of cthulhu :

They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky.

Re:Intersting patterns in the glass (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 4 years ago | (#33922452)

If you focus it better, it really reads, "Made in China. All rights reserved".

Attribution (2, Informative)

Framboise (521772) | about 4 years ago | (#33920094)

Well, university of Arizona did contributes to this work, but from the 9 author institute list it arrives in the 8th position

1 Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich, Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse 27, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland
2 Sterrewacht Leiden, P.O. Box 9513, Niels Bohrweg 2, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
3 European Southern Observatory, Alonso de Córdova 3107, Vitacura, Cassilla 19001, Santiago, Chile
4 European Southern Observatory, Karl Schwarzschild Strasse, 2, 85748 Garching bei München, Germany
5 Laboratoire dAstrophysique, Observatoire de Grenoble, Université Joseph Fourier, CNRS, BP 53, F-38041 Grenoble, France
6 Space Telesope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA
7 LESIA, UMR 8109 CNRS, Observatoire de Paris, UPMC, Université Paris-Diderot, 5 place J. Janssen, 92195 Meudon, France
8 Steward Observatory, The University of Arizona, 933 N. Cherry Ave., Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
9 Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Königstuhl 17, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany

Re:Attribution (1)

AlejoHausner (1047558) | about 4 years ago | (#33920722)

The eight author (Philip M. Hinz) seems to work at the Steward Observatory in Tucson, AZ. The article says that the observations were done at the VLT (Very Large Telescope) at the ESO (European Southern Observatory) on Paranal mountain in Chile. However, Hinz may deserve substantial credit, since he was part of a team that actually used an APP for the first time, according to this article [] . That article did not look for exoplanets, but the astronomers did successfully image a faint companion for the star mu Herc A. That companion had previously only been observed spectroscopically.

Re:Attribution (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 years ago | (#33923652)

Even in the original article, it states that a UA guy had the idea and developed the theory on this. Basically, we are canceling out the starlight halo that otherwise would drown out the light signal of the planet," said Johanan (John) Codona, a senior research scientist at the UA's Steward Observatory who developed the theory behind the technique, which he calls phase-apodization coronagraphy.
In many science papers, all sorts of ppl will try to claim credit for contributing so much as a paper clip. In fact, some ppls names are put on paper just to give it credibility, even though the person had absolutely NOTHING to do with it. Heck, back in the 80's, one of the director of the lab that I worked at, put his name on every paper.
My guess is that the American's developed this technique, but tried it out on the bigger scopes, but only by agreeing that they credit everybody associated with the large scope (the price for access to other ppl's toys).

Cough Drop (3, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | about 4 years ago | (#33920344)

Caption: "Similar in size and shape to a cough drop, the Apodizing Phase Plate causes light waves coming from a star to interfere with each other, exposing the faint glow of a nearby planet."

Mark: "I can't find that new 20-million-dollar lens. I know it was around here somewhere."

Bob: "I haven't seen it either. Gee, these new cough drops suck, by the way. You have to bite extra hard on them."

Astronomy Picture Of the Day? (1)

Henriok (6762) | about 4 years ago | (#33920846)

"Apodizing"? Is that something that's geard towards producing amazing pictures fit for APOD, i.e. Astronomy Picture Of the Day [] ?

Re:Astronomy Picture Of the Day? (1)

arielCo (995647) | about 4 years ago | (#33921196)

Wikipedia to the rescue []

In optical design jargon, an apodization function is used to purposely change the input intensity profile of an optical system, and may be a complicated function to tailor the system to certain properties. Usually it refers to a non-uniform illumination or transmission profile that approaches zero at the edges.

Apodization is used in telescope optics in order to improve the dynamic range of the image. For example, stars with low intensity in the close vicinity of very bright stars can be made visible using this technique, and even images of planets can be obtained when otherwise obscured by the bright atmosphere of the star they orbit. Generally, apodization reduces the resolution of an optical image; however, because it reduces diffraction edge effects, it can actually enhance certain small details.

Ain't it wonderful?

Money Money Money Money! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33921030)

Astronomers develop method for requesting faint government funds.

Breakthrough? (1)

Shag (3737) | about 4 years ago | (#33921056)

Well, I suppose it's a slightly different technique than the one demonstrated last year [] ... maybe this APP thingy will show us dimmer exoplanets or something.

Europe? Where's that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33921792)

"The University of Arizona's astronomers have developed a way to see faint planets..."

OK, I know /. can be a bit US-centric, but of the 12 authors on that paper, only one is from the University of Arizona. The other eleven are from the Institute for Astronomy (Zurich), Sterrewacht Leiden (Netherlands), the European Southern Observatory (Germany and Chile), Observatoire de Grenoble (France), Space Telesope Science Institute (Baltimore), Observatoire de Paris (France), and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (Germany).

Disclaimer: I also work at Steward Observatory, University of Arizona.

Shut your pie hole (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33922676)


Terrestrial Planet Finder (1)

Maritz (1829006) | about 4 years ago | (#33923026)

This seems like a really exciting advance especially seeing as it's already been used on the VLT with some nice results. The notion that it could be used to block the star's halo completely is also great. I wonder if it could be incorporated into the Terrestrial Planet Finder (assuming that project starts moving again some time)?
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