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Three New Exoplanets Seen In Direct Photographs

timothy posted about 4 months ago | from the way-out-there-man dept.

Space 43

The Bad Astronomer writes "Planets orbiting other stars are usually found indirectly (by blocking their stars' light or inducing a Doppler shift in the light as they orbit, for example), but direct images of exoplanets are extremely rare. However, using the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii, astronomers have taken photographs of three nearby exoplanets, all young, massive, and hot. One may be massive enough to count as a brown dwarf, but the other two are more likely in the planet-mass range. All three are very far from their stars, which means they may have formed differently than the planets in our solar system."

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43 comments

Young massive and hot. (4, Funny)

P-niiice (1703362) | about 4 months ago | (#45584409)

The OP was talking about planets, right?

Re:Young massive and hot. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45584467)

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have announced an expanded partnership to support water quality trading and other market-based approaches that provide benefits to the environment and economy.

“New water quality trading markets hold incredible potential to benefit rural America by providing new income opportunities and enhancing conservation of water and wildlife habitat,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Additionally, these efforts will strengthen businesses across the nation by providing a new pathway to comply with regulatory requirements.”

“EPA is committed to finding collaborative solutions that protect and restore our nation’s waterways and the health of the communities that depend on them,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “We’re excited about partnering with USDA to expand support for water quality trading, which shows that environmental improvements can mean a better bottom line for farmers and ranchers.”

Water quality trading provides a cost-effective approach for regulated entities to comply with EPA Clean Water Act requirements, including water quality-based effluent limits in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. Trading would allow regulated entities to purchase and use pollutant reduction credits generated by other sources in a watershed. Cost savings and other economic incentives are key motivators for parties engaged in trading. Water quality trading can also provide additional environmental and economic benefits, such as air quality improvements, enhanced wildlife habitat, carbon capture and storage, and new income and employment opportunities for rural America.

EPA and USDA are working together to implement and coordinate policies and programs that encourage water quality trading. The Department and the Agency will identify opportunities to work collaboratively to help improve water quality trading programs across the country. Cooperative management and technical assistance will improve resource management and public services, and accelerate implementation.

USDA and EPA will:

- Coordinate and enhance communications and outreach to states, agricultural producers, regulated sources, and interested third parties on water quality trading;
- Engage expertise across agencies in the review of grants, loans or technical assistance programs focused on water quality trading;
- Share information on the development of rules and guidance that have the potential to affect water quality trading;
- Collaborate on developing tools and information resources for states and credit generators to guide decision making, reduce costs in program design and implementation, improve environmental performance, and foster consistency and integrity across regional initiatives;
- Co-host a workshop by 2015 to share tools and resources available to assist in stakeholder decision making and opportunities.

The purpose of this policy is to support states, interstate agencies and tribes as they develop and implement water quality trading programs for nutrients, sediments and other pollutants where opportunities exist to achieve water quality improvements at reduced costs.

Re:Young massive and hot. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45585201)

I assume by massive and hot you are insulting my weight problem?

SOME OF US CAN'T HELP IT MAN!

Re:Young massive and hot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45585805)

One may be massive enough to count as a brown dwarf.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder :)

Galactic Spying (1)

chinton (151403) | about 4 months ago | (#45584447)

I see the NSA is not content with spying on Earthlings...

Re:Galactic Spying (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about 4 months ago | (#45584857)

If they're unconcerned with spying on citizens of other countries on this planet, they're definitely not going to give a damn about those on other planets.

"formed differently" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45584539)

yet entirely consistent with the electric universe theory.

Re:"formed differently" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45585267)

Also entirely consistent with the "God did it" theory.

Re:"formed differently" (1)

Urkki (668283) | about 4 months ago | (#45586965)

yet entirely consistent with the electric universe theory.

Isn't the "electric universe" one of those things, which is consistent with anything? Impossible to falsify and therefore absolute truth?

How long until strong evidence for life? (2)

Covalent (1001277) | about 4 months ago | (#45584691)

These planets are directly observable with current technology. Within 10 years, one would imagine that smaller, nearer-to-the-star planets will be directly viewed...perhaps even spectroscopy on the planet's atmosphere will be possible. The James Webb telescope might be able to do some of this as soon as 2017.

That said, will we see strong evidence for life on another world soon? My guess is that an atmosphere with gases that simply don't belong there in large quantities (dimethyl sulfide, free oxygen, etc.) will be found sooner rather than later...and that will more or less wrap it up.

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 4 months ago | (#45584953)

I think the threshold for 'strong' evidence will be in doubt for some time.

Yes, if we see a lot of oxygen we might conclude it's possibly/probably life.

But, the universe conspires to show us new and exotic things we can't quite figure out all the time -- if there's vast clouds of alcohol floating about in space, I think until we're actually directly looking at/talking with something, we'll only ever suspect there could be life.

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (1)

Covalent (1001277) | about 4 months ago | (#45585009)

Good point. I suppose oxygen in an atmosphere isn't a dead lock that there's life there, although it wags its finger very suggestively.

If we do find free oxygen in an atmosphere, though, you can bet all eyes will be trained on that planet. What kind of technology would be required to confirm the presence of life visually? Obviously radio signals or something like that would be a clincher, but suppose the life there is non-technological. Could we ever "verify" that there was life on that planet without going there or sending a probe (which is currently not feasible)?

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (4, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | about 4 months ago | (#45585261)

What kind of technology would be required to confirm the presence of life visually?

If you'd asked anybody that 25 years ago they'd laugh and say it's impossible. My first thought is it still might be, but the jumps they've made in imaging over the last few decades are staggering. Now you can get as good resolution from ground-based telescopes as the ones in space, because the image processing has gotten so much better.

It would be quite a feat to directly image life on a planet over vast distances and through atmospheres, so my complete and total guess is unless they've got something really large and obvious like city lights, we probably can't.

Could we ever "verify" that there was life on that planet without going there or sending a probe (which is currently not feasible)?

I can't speculate how, but I'm not an astro-physicist (or a physicists for that matter) ... for all I know some of the boffins are trying to figure out how they'd go about this. It certainly would be one hell of a feat.

When I was in university and hung out with astrophysicists, the notion of detecting an exoplanet was still a bit of a stretch. Since then, we've inferred or directly observed so many it's astounding.

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (1)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 4 months ago | (#45586885)

I'd read some interesting articles about "using polarized light to determine chirality." Basically, the building blocks of our proteins are "right handed" (I think, I could get this flipped right here), a result of a yellow sun favoring certain right-handed outcomes in carbon molecules as they constantly get destroyed and re-attached in space and with radiation. Life is left-handed amino acids based upon the right-handed building blocks being more abundant. Due to this chirality, the light coming off our planet is polarized. Non-organic life doesn't have a chiral structure (if I'm using the word right), and therefore sunlight does not get polarized.

This is just one discovery of many. The idea that we may be able to quickly "scan for life forms" from 300 light years away may be right around the corner. So it begs the question; any life forms out there a bit more advanced than us would probably be able to "scan for life. We've already seen numerous examples of patterns being reproduced and preserving information as a way to defeat entropy. WHY this happens is a matter of debate but that it happens is clear from crystals to bees.

" It's not "if" but "why" have we not been contacted by higher life forms that should be the discussion -- not "if life exists".

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45588187)

Basically, the building blocks of our proteins are "right handed" (I think, I could get this flipped right here)

More like confused than flipped. There are several different oppositions that have little to do with each other.

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (2)

Valdrax (32670) | about 4 months ago | (#45589883)

It would be quite a feat to directly image life on a planet over vast distances and through atmospheres, so my complete and total guess is unless they've got something really large and obvious like city lights, we probably can't.

The presence of large amounts of oxygen in an atmosphere would be a very, very strong indication, because oxygen doesn't stick around unbound to minerals and most gasses without something working very hard at separating it out. This holds true for any other highly reactive chemical that doesn't have any significant geological causes. We could find out by spectroscopy of the atmosphere.

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (2)

Kjella (173770) | about 4 months ago | (#45587153)

If we do find free oxygen in an atmosphere, though, you can bet all eyes will be trained on that planet. What kind of technology would be required to confirm the presence of life visually? Obviously radio signals or something like that would be a clincher, but suppose the life there is non-technological. Could we ever "verify" that there was life on that planet without going there or sending a probe (which is currently not feasible)?

Visually, no that's impossible. One square meter of earth is hit with about 1600W or 5*10^21 photons from the sun every second. Even if you built a collector the size of the earth five light years away only 1 in 2.8*10^23 photons from that square meter would hit earth, meaning you'd never get the resolution to positively identify even a giant dinosaur. It's not a matter of technology, but of quantum physics. We'd need a probe to land, build a very powerful radio telescope that would operate a point-to-point link with earth to get any mug shots.

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45590579)

You won't be able to get an image of something that moves around a lot, but a long exposure takes you a lot further. Something like the Hubble deep field was a 30 hr exposure per color channel, while the extreme deep field was closer to three weeks. You're now talking millions of photons per square meter with your Earth sized telescope, or even dozens with one that is just 10 km in radius. If that were your only problem, you could image trees at least.

But you are stuck with resolution limits unless you use a very large array of telescopes. A single Earth sized telescope would still be resolution limited to a couple kilometers at 5 light years away. To get anywhere near a 1 meter resolution at those distances, you would need to find a way to do interferometry over distances comparable to Earth's orbit.

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45592629)

... if there's vast clouds of alcohol floating about in space ...

No "if" about it, thats old news [theweek.com].

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 4 months ago | (#45585405)

And the world will celebrate... for two days, until people realise that this 'life' isn't the type that talks, but most likely algae-like organisms, plants at best. Then the world goes back to watching celebrities do stupid things on television.

Re:How long until strong evidence for life? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45585597)

You're probably right - with millions of light-years between us, odds are they won't meet us while we're evenly matched. Either we discover the algae, or the gods discover us.

Is this correct? (2)

Sir_Eptishous (873977) | about 4 months ago | (#45585023)

FTA:

FW Tau is perhaps the most interesting of the three systems. The star is actually a binary, two stars orbiting each other. Both stars are cool red dwarfs, about a quarter of the mass of the Sun each, orbiting about 1.6 billion kilometers (one billion miles) apart, roughly the distance of Saturn to the Sun. The stars are a bit less than two million years old, and are 470 light years from Earth.

Two Million? Really?

Re:Is this correct? (1)

Nyder (754090) | about 4 months ago | (#45585675)

FTA:

FW Tau is perhaps the most interesting of the three systems. The star is actually a binary, two stars orbiting each other. Both stars are cool red dwarfs, about a quarter of the mass of the Sun each, orbiting about 1.6 billion kilometers (one billion miles) apart, roughly the distance of Saturn to the Sun. The stars are a bit less than two million years old, and are 470 light years from Earth.

Two Million? Really?

No, I'm sure they meant 6k years old.

How long until we get a time-lapse sequence? (4, Interesting)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 4 months ago | (#45585153)

As awesome as this is, I'd love to see a time-lapse series of an exoplanet orbiting its star. I think that'd really drive home what we're looking at.

Re:How long until we get a time-lapse sequence? (1)

SpaceIsBig (3452621) | about 4 months ago | (#45586217)

How long until we get a time-lapse sequence?

We might have a chance once the >30m telescopes start coming online (e.g. ELT). Up until then there's no chance, given these planets are at ~150-300 AU (5-10 times the radius of Neptune, who's orbital period is ~160 years) and therefore have orbit periods of thousands of years.

Surface features? (1)

art6217 (757847) | about 4 months ago | (#45585243)

Is the shape of these dots representing merely the telescope's own artifacts? Will we be able to see clouds/continents of the largest exoplanets, if Phil Plait's prediction, that seeing Earth--sized planets is only a few years away, turns out to be true?

Re:Surface features? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45590621)

If you had a telescope 100 meters across, or multiple scopes doing interferometry on that scale, you would just be able to resolve the moon and Earth from ~4 light years away. To see something like that at these distances, 100s of light years away, you would need something 100 times bigger. To resolve something like the features of Jupiter with more than a couple pixels at those distances, you start getting to ~ 1000 km in size, requiring some array of satellites at that point. This would be even bigger if imaging in IR instead.

Increasing ability to image planets at this point is more about distinguishing light from the planet from the star. There is a long way to go for different parts of the planet, short of crude methods like getting the light intensity as it revolves.

6di3k (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#45589255)

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