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Looking Directly at Extrasolar Planets

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the flushing-out-the-noise dept.

Space 92

D2Deek writes "Science Daily is reporting on a new device called an Optical Vortex Coronagraph that's been invented to directly image planets orbiting other stars by using a special lens that "spins out" the light from the star leaving only the reflected light from the planet." I just can't imagine trying to clean a lens shaped like a giant corkscrew.

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The light of a planet (2, Insightful)

fembots (753724) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188383)

Seeing the planet next to its bright star has been compared to trying to discern, from a hundred meters away, the light of a match held up next to the glare of an automobile's headlight.

I thought a planet must be illuminated by light from a star, and not emitting light itself?

Anyway, this technology might be useful for photography, so that one will never get an overexposed shot again.

Re:The light of a planet (2, Informative)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188403)


I thought a planet must be illuminated by light from a star, and not emitting light itself?


What this is referring to is the light directly from the star outshining the planet's reflected light.

I would assume, at anyrate. I am still trying to load the article.

Re:The light of a planet (1)

fembots (753724) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188539)

I was referring to the headlight + match light example those scientists gave, which is not quite the same as sun + planet.

Re:The light of a planet (3, Informative)

Skye16 (685048) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188669)

Your point is valid. A better analogy would be more like a mirror the size of an eraser, reflecting light from a match held a few hundred meters away, in front of a car headlight.

(Actually, I don't know if the proportions are even remotely close, but meh.)

Re:The light of a planet (3, Insightful)

Bradee-oh! (459922) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188678)

I tend to think it's quite appropriate. Granted, in the strictist of senses, yes a planet reflect the star's light while a match creates its own. But from a analogical sense, it works. The brightness of the light from the match is a fraction of the light coming out of the headlight, just as the light reflected towards us from the planet is many times dimmer than the starlight itself. When applied to very large planets, which are the only extra-solar ones we've discovered so far, the size comparison works as well. Plus who's to say the planet is not a dim-light emitting gas giant? ;)
 
The point is, the analogy does get across the difficulty of this acheivement quite well, even moreso when you don't knitpick it to oblivion.

Re:The light of a planet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14191360)

even moreso when you don't knitpick it to oblivion

It's "nitpick".

And yes, I enjoy the irony of this reply, like raiiiiiiiin on your wedding day.

Re:The light of a planet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14198528)

Actually I can see both working well since the first grandparent was almost literally trying to "unravel" the analogy.

Re:The light of a planet (0, Offtopic)

mmkkbb (816035) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188735)

pssst, if your full name has an apostrophe when registering for xmoo, the server errors out.

Re:The light of a planet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14188857)

doesn't say the match is on fire, only that it is near the light of a headlight....

Advanced species (1)

Skiron (735617) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188426)

They already have this technology - so another reason not to sunbath naked on your roof.

Re:The light of a planet (1)

shane_rimmer (622400) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188427)

Uh... from the article summary:

"...using a special lens that "spins out" the light from the star leaving only the reflected light from the planet."

Re:The light of a planet (3, Informative)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188445)

This is actually more about the angle of light, say I want to capture all light in a very tight .005% angle. Unfortunatly there is a sun at the very very edge of my shot. Even though its technically out of the angle of my shot with conventional lenses the sun will glare through. This technology allows light at the edges of the lense to be spun off. It really has nothing to do with intensity.

Re:The light of a planet (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188482)

Note: there should be a lot more Zeros in that % I guess. I don't know astronimically speaking if your trying to view a planet from hundred light years away, and don't want to see its sun, you would be talking about an angle of 1E-100 something I assume. Anyone know?

Re:The light of a planet (2, Informative)

halftrack (454203) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188844)

The closest extrasolar planet is (according to this [obs-hp.fr] ) Gliese 876. It's situatet 15 lightyears from us which works out to 15years*300000km/s*86400s*364.25days=472068000km. The planetary radius is 0.1 times the solar radius (our sun). Which gives a diameter of (according to wikipedia [wikipedia.org] ) 1392000km*0.1=139200km. Thus (according to Python) the angle is; atan(139200km/472068000km)~2.9*10^-4 radians, which is ~0.017 degrees. A supprisingly big number in my opinion.

Re:The light of a planet (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14189077)

Your math is off.

15years*300000km/s*86400s*364.25days = 14162040000000km, not 472068000km

Thus, the angle comes to 5.63e-7 degrees, or 0.002 arcseconds

Re:The light of a planet (1)

halftrack (454203) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189199)

Ooops, seems like I punched this into Python: 15*86400*364.25

That would explain why my answer was so big, eh.

Re:The light of a planet (4, Informative)

Darius Jedburgh (920018) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189783)

This is why you're taught in courses on physics how to estimate things like the weight of the pyramids or the capacitance of clouds (well we were). So you aren't just a slave to your calculator and can actually detect when a number is BS.

Re:The light of a planet (2, Informative)

AnotherBlackHat (265897) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189184)


  The closest extrasolar planet is (according to this) Gliese 876. It's situatet 15 lightyears from us which works out to 15years*300000km/s*86400s*364.25days=472068000km. The planetary radius is 0.1 times the solar radius (our sun). Which gives a diameter of (according to wikipedia) 1392000km*0.1=139200km. Thus (according to Python) the angle is; atan(139200km/472068000km)~2.9*10^-4 radians, which is ~0.017 degrees. A supprisingly big number in my opinion.


I think you dropped a 300,000 km/s.

15 years * 300000 km/s * 86400s * 364.25days != 472068000km, it's 141620400000000km
(should probably use 365.25 days per year, not 364.25, but that's minor)
atan(139200km/141620400000000km) is ~ 0.00000005 degrees according to my calculator,
which seems a lot more astronomical.

Re:The light of a planet (1)

rk (6314) | more than 8 years ago | (#14196001)

"I think you dropped a 300,000 km/s."

Hadn't you heard? The Galactic Senate, in an effort to save our endangered antimatter reserves, lowered the speed of light to 1 km/s in order to conserve energy. Phhzzggzztyt Abbmmmun, the senior senator from Hierantos VIII, said "Someone needs to think of the larvae."

Of course, it wasn't unanimous. L'fhong Di Tabax, representing the Chorabax Cluster suggested that it was "The Andromeda energy cartel's fault" and added that "if they don't shape up, we should bomb them back to the information age."

Re:The light of a planet (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14189290)

Not to nitpick - but according to Celestia (take it with a grain of salt, of course) Epsilon Eridani (Gliese 144) is closer than Gliese 876 (10.5 ly as opposed to 15.3 ly) and it has at least 2 known planetary satellites. See here: http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/E/EpsEri .html [daviddarling.info] or google for "Epsilon Eri."

On a side note, Eps Eri C (the smaller planet) seems to orbit about 28 au from its parent star - I would think this would be a perfect candidate for this technology! (I'm too lazy to work out the math right now, however, bonus points to anyone who does.)

Re:The light of a planet (4, Informative)

jgoemat (565882) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189353)

The 472,068,000 doesn't include the 300,000km/s. The real number would be 142,009,200,000,000. (also a year is 365.25 days, but the 15 light-year measurement is much less accurate than that I suspect) The page you point to says the planet's average orbit is 0.2 times the earth-sun distance, about 31.5 million km. That gives an angular distance between the star and planet of about 0.0000127 degrees, or 0.045 arcseconds. The hubble can resolve about 0.07 arcseconds, if we can separate the glare from the star bleeding over, then we are close.

Re:The light of a planet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14191662)

The closest extrasolar planet is (according to this) Gliese 876.

Of course, the closest with strategic significance is Wolf 359.

Newbie buts in (0, Offtopic)

stewhawke (936396) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189282)

Yes the parent is correct. Best comment so far in my humble opinion. Thanks for expaining how it works. But I want to be a bit off topic here. Sorry. Rant starts. What the hell is this site doing? I sign up to slashdot one of my favourite websites ever. But I can't post from work because of the proxy. So OK I am at home on leave. I fill in the form and get a mail back. I am a member, they send me a password. That's all fine. But when I try to change the password all I get is a nearly blank page. Yes it has the links etc on the left side. But no way to change the password to something I can rmember. like i*%WhOLD#0 or some such easy one. So I try to contact the slashdot team. But I am told I am not logged in. However I seem to be. I have logged in 3 times so far I think. The FAQ just sends me back to the above mentioned nearly blank page. OK OK I am an idiot who shouldn't be allowed to post. But I should be allowed to change my password. At least Stuart de Baker Hawke

Re:Newbie buts in (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190138)

cookies? maybe you have them turned off?

Re:Newbie buts in (1)

stewhawke (936396) | more than 8 years ago | (#14199643)

DOH!! Thanks I'll check my settings.

Re:The light of a planet (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188490)

I thought a planet must be illuminated by light from a star, and not emitting light itself?

It can reflect light from stars.

Re:The light of a planet (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188533)

I thought a planet must be illuminated by light from a star, and not emitting light itself?

If you want to get really technical, planets emit light too, they just do it in really really small amounts, and in the infrared...

Camera overexposure can be fixed better currently (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14188927)

Anyway, this technology might be useful for photography, so that one will never get an overexposed shot again.

Actually in digital cameras if they used a higher dynamic range say 16 bits per sub pixel rather than the current 8 then overexposure can be eliminated or correctable in software in most cases (unless of course u overexpose by an extreme amount). Many high end pro cameras use 12 bits or more nowadays.

The optical vortex tech won't help in digital cameras because you want all elements of the picture (ie, you don't want to null out any of it because it wont give a true represenation of the scene).

Erm... not so sure on the overexposure bit. (1)

Mr Z (6791) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190715)

Overexposure is not so much about bits of dynamic range as it is clamping the amount of charge stored on any given pixel in the CCD array. At some point, you can't put any more charge in a given pixel's charge bucket without it bleeding to other bins excessively due to tunneling or breakdown effects. That's why you get some weird stripes down images if you point your camera at a bright light.

Re:The light of a planet (1)

corrosive_nf (744601) | more than 8 years ago | (#14191160)

On a sidenot, I read somewhere that if Jupiter was just 1% larger is would have been able to initiate fusion on it's own and this would have been a binary star system. Of course that would not have bode well for the object between it and Sol.

Re:The light of a planet (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 8 years ago | (#14191190)

1%?! No. We frequently find gas giants many times larger than Jupiter that are in no danger of becoming stars. Jupiter would have needed to be about 80 times larger than it is to initiate fusion.

Re:The light of a planet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14198201)

In conclusion, all analogies fall apart if you read into them too much. All they wanted to highlight with the analogy was the difference in intensities.

Do not... (5, Funny)

OakDragon (885217) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188401)

Do not look directly at extrasolar planets with remaining good eye.

Re:Do not... (1)

tarquin_fim_bim (649994) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188586)

Insightful? FFS are all mods still pre pubescent? I'll come back in another 6 months.

Re:Do not... (1)

StyroCupMan (815468) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188999)

Do not look directly at extrasolar planets with remaining good eye.

That was my first thought when I read the headline. I guess /. group-think has finally taken over. I welcome my new meme overlords. Or something.

Can use it to... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14188432)

...find out if Uranus is eminating light.

But... (0, Offtopic)

jollyroger1210 (933226) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188441)

Can it detect the giant asteroid heading for Earth at this very moment?

How many of you, like me, ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14188448)

read this:

The approach taken by Grover Swartzlander and his colleagues

as:

The approach taken by Governor Schwarzenegger and his colleagues

and thought you'd stepped into a Bizarro cartoon?

Optical Vortex Coronagraph (5, Funny)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188486)

Is that anything like the Total Perspective Vortex [wikipedia.org] ??

Re:Optical Vortex Coronagraph (2, Funny)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190222)

Sounds like three word Treknology to me: "Captain, we have to use the Optical Vortex Coronagraph to form a Quantum Subspace Bubble!"

lens-cleaning (2, Funny)

killmenow (184444) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188487)

I just can't imagine trying to clean a lens shaped like a giant corkscrew.
Just put some isopropyl alcohol on a giant corkscrew-shaped q-tip. What's the big deal?

Real Genius (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188854)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089886/ [imdb.com]

Kent: My condolences on your meltdown.
Chris Knight: What meltdown, Kent?
Kent: I'm not saying you had one, because how would I know? But just in case you do.
Chris Knight: You slime!
Kent: It's your own fault, Knight. Didn't anyone tell you to make sure your optics are clean?

Actual Press Release text (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14188527)

... seeing that the server is slashdotted ...

A new optical device might allow astronomers to view extrasolar planets directly without the annoying glare of the parent star. It would do this by "nulling" out the light of the parent star by exploiting its wave nature, leaving the reflected light from the nearby planet to be observed in space-based detectors.

About ten years ago, the presence of planets around stars other than our sun was first deduced by the very tiny wobble in the star's spectrum of light imposed by the mutual tug between the star and its satellite. Since then, more than 100 extrasolar planets have been detected in this way. Also, in a few cases the slight diminution in the star's radiation caused by the transit of the planet across in front of the star has been observed. Many astronomers would, however, like to view the planet directly, a difficult thing to do.

Seeing the planet next to its bright star has been compared to trying to discern, from a hundred meters away, the light of a match held up next to the glare of an automobile's headlight. The approach taken by Grover Swartzlander and his colleagues at the University of Arizona is to eliminate the star's light by sending it through a special helical-shaped mask, a sort of lens whose geometry resembles that of a spiral staircase turned on its side.

The process works in the following way: light passing through the thicker and central part of the mask is slowed down. Because of the graduated shape of the glass, an "optical vortex" is created: the light coming along the axis of the mask is, in effect, spun out of the image. It is nulled, as if an opaque mask had been placed across the image of the star, but leaving the light from the nearby planet unaffected.

The idea of an optical vortex has been around for many years, but it has never been applied to astronomy before. In lab trials of the optical vortex mask, light from mock stars has been reduced by factors of 100 to 1000, while light from a nearby "planet" was unaffected (see figure).

Attaching their device to a telescope on Mt. Lemon outside Tucson, Arizona, the researchers took pictures of Saturn and its nearby rings to demonstrate the ease of integrating the mask into telescopic imaging system. This is, according to Swartzlander (520-626-3723, grovers@optics.arizona.edu), a more practical technique than merely attempting to cover the star's image, as is done in coronagraphs, devices for observing our sun's corona by masking out the disk of the sun. It could fully come into its own on a project like the Terrestrial Planet Finder, or TPF, a proposed orbiting telescope to be developed over the coming decade and designed to image exoplanets.

Foo et al., Optics Letters, 15 December 2005 Summary of articles related to optical vortex on Swartzlander's Web page

Someone more patient than I can put in the links to the figures. See http://aip.org/pnu/2005/755.html [aip.org] for everything.

Here's additional linkage (2, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188697)

http://www.u.arizona.edu/~grovers/ovc.html [arizona.edu]

Optical Vortex Coronagraph Figures

Optics Letters Preprint (4.8 Mb) [nyud.net] [pdf] --- To Appear 15 December (ol.osa.org)
This work first appeared in the Master Degree Thesis of Greg Foo:
OSC QC350.O77 Vol. 353, 2005.

I have a concern, or at least a question... (1)

HopeOS (74340) | more than 8 years ago | (#14194057)

The "non-coronagraphic photograph showing Saturn through a vortex phase mask" (http://www.u.arizona.edu/~grovers/ovc/004.jpg [arizona.edu] ) about 4/5ths the way down the page has no aliasing at all between the masked portion and the captured light. Why not? If this is a CCD image, I would expect the edge of the mask to cover fractions of pixels and consequently, some light. The image appears to have been masked directly in software, and thus, data was discarded. Scientifically, that concerns me, and there does not seem to be a good reason for the image to have been modified in this way. Can someone clarify?

-Hope

cleaning (4, Funny)

winkydink (650484) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188534)

I just can't imagine trying to clean a lens shaped like a giant corkscrew.

Just run a lint-free Debian logo through it a couple of times.

Strip coating (5, Interesting)

asadodetira (664509) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188553)

The submitter mentioned cleaning lenses and other optical equipment. I want to comment that that's a very tricky thing. Most optical manuals just say: Do not attempt to clean!! Some recent developments are in the area of strip coatings (you pour a polymer over the surface and peel it off to remove dirt without damaging the optics). This has been tried since the early XX century but only recently has became practical. Here's a link to a group that developed a sucessful formula for that process: http://www.uwplatt.edu/~hamiltoj/ [uwplatt.edu]

Re:Strip coating (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14190270)

What's wrong with Easy-Off Oven Cleaner? Wimps!

Beatles to Light Vortex Guys (1)

trurl7 (663880) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188560)

"...I'm looking through you..."

Replacing coronography (2, Interesting)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188590)

I wonder if it could be used to replace coronography, as for example letting you see only the solar emissions (winds and all that) without the disc of the sun, and this with no occultation, or even helping view the deviation of light nearby a star (in case this can be of any use) without having the annoying light of the star in between.

I wonder if it could be applied to observing galaxies too... I mean, I'd be curious to know what other uses could be found to this technique

Re:Replacing coronography (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14188793)

Apparently all the work so far is only computer simulations. There are some serious problems to overcome before this could be a practical system. The author states:

"These calculations assume no aberrations or other scattering sources, and they assume the vortex mask can be made achromatic."

http://www.u.arizona.edu/~grovers/ovc.html [arizona.edu]

In other words, the lens material is made from unobtanium and the rest of the system has to be perfect. The author certainly knows this will never happen.

Mike

Re:Replacing coronography (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14250848)

Your are SO wrong. The web site you mention
-- www.u.arizona.edu/~grovers/ovc.html --
shows that the authors indeed have made the vortex coronagraph and
demonstrated it in the lab. The mask was made of glass (not unobtanium).

corky screw reflection (2, Informative)

milktoastman (572643) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188592)

A corkscrew shaped lens, eh? It's amazing the topographical capacity in lens engineering. I bet this is all fused silica. When will we have single crystal sciu light sources? I'm in no hurry. I study the magnetic recombinance of solar coronas. No need here for that source type. Let me jump back to times when I could just play games and not worry about lens and abberration and physics. GRRRR! Real life sucks.

That's... (3, Funny)

Dirtside (91468) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188598)

I just can't imagine trying to clean a lens shaped like a giant corkscrew.
That's probably why you edit stories for Slashdot, instead of being, you know... a rocket scientist.

Re:That's... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14189139)

you pompus twat.

Re:That's... (1)

forest_rock (521496) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189902)

I just can't imagine trying to clean a lens shaped like a giant corkscrew.

That's probably why you edit stories for Slashdot, instead of being, you know... a rocket scientist.

Rocket scientists being the best people to clean corkcrew shaped lenses, of course...

Re:That's... (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190514)

Rocket scientists being the best people to clean corkcrew shaped lenses, of course...

Yep, it works like this;
"A 10 second run with a XR4A3 at 90% throttle should blow the dust off that baby for you."

....

Well, your new lens won't need cleaning for a while. We'll have the bugs worked out by then, I promise..."

Foo! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14188618)

The first author's name is Gregory Foo! How cool is that?? What self respecting CS nerd wouldn't give his HP calculator to have a last name of Foo?

Foo et al. (4, Funny)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188630)

It's worth RTFA just to see a reference to "Foo et al."

(The full paper title is "Optical Vortex Coronagraph" by Gregory Foo, David M. Palacios, Grover A. Swartzlander Jr., College of Optical Sciences, University of Arizona).

Re:Foo et al. (5, Funny)

wiggles (30088) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188726)

He should open up a tavern at the university. He can call it the "foo bar"

Re:Foo et al. (1, Interesting)

Miffe (592354) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188852)

At Stockholm university there allready is a Foo Bar [disk.su.se]

Re:Foo et al. (2, Funny)

ralphclark (11346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189357)

Then if he has a work colleague called Basil, or even Barry, he can invite him by saying "Are you coming to the Foo Bar, Baz?"

Re:Foo et al. (1)

Spunk (83964) | more than 8 years ago | (#14192792)

I went to WPI [wpi.edu] , and a mile or two away is... the Foo Bar [foobarworcester.com] . Also, Swartzlander was my Physics prof there.

Re:Foo et al. (2, Funny)

Foo et al. (936388) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189138)

I don't get it. Is this funny or something?

Re:Foo et al. (1)

Solilok (791022) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190730)

Moshe Bar is happily married with kids.
One can always dream about the possibilities though...

logically speaking... (1)

St0rmwarden (759530) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188727)

Sooo to get a straight look at a distant planet we should to use a corkscrew-shaped lens...

Elementary, my dear Watson!

Azathoth have mercy (4, Funny)

rolypolyman (933130) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188753)


            "As Gilman looked into the Optical Vortex Coronagraph at the extrasolar planet, he became conscious of some formless alien presence watching him with horrible intentness. He felt entangled with something -- something which was not in the telescope, but which had looked through it at him. Something which would ceaselessly follow him.
            "Cautious investigators will hesitate to challenge the common belief that Gilman was killed by lightning, or by some profound nervous shock derived from an electrical discharge. Archaeologists and astronomers, however, are still trying to explain the bizarre designs impressed on the special helical-shaped mask, whose inner side bore ominous stains."

Re:Azathoth have mercy (1)

ShadowXOmega (808299) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189649)

Nooo, Gilman died because of a nasty rat :P

you need to seek for the tall black man, and the bizzare flute songs near the telescope main char :P

Re:Azathoth have mercy (2)

superbrainpanic (936430) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190070)

No no no... Lovecraft uses lots of adjectives and tells his stories from the first person. "As I looked through the aeons into the Optical Vortex Coronagraph at the extrasolar dark orb, I became conscious of some obscene nameless presence watching with horrible intentness."

Re:Azathoth have mercy (1)

rolypolyman (933130) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190095)

Excellent -- even better!

Re:Azathoth have mercy (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190345)

Ah yes, Howard the Duck. The horror!

In Soviet Russia... (0, Offtopic)

shrtcircuit (936357) | more than 8 years ago | (#14188838)

The light spins YOU!

The point (5, Insightful)

oni (41625) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189029)

You wont be able to see any surface details, but the point, for those who don't already know, is that if you can look at just the light that's reflected, then you can run that light through a spectroscope. If you see in the spectroscope that there is free oxygen in the atmosphere, then you've probably found life. See, free oxygen (O2) doesn't occur anywhere in nature - except where it's created by life. So, if you find lots of O2 in the atmosphere, you've found a living planet (and a reason to build daedelus [geocities.com] )

Re:The point (2, Informative)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190791)

See, free oxygen (O2) doesn't occur anywhere in nature - except where it's created by life.

And you know this because you have witnessed the entirety of nature? Or this has been deduced and isn't actually a fact, but an assumption?

Actually, O2 does appear in places other than our planet (places assumed to be devoid of life), just not in abundance. But even an abundance is only a hint that life exists. There are inorganic processes that can create oxygen. These usually don't create abundant amounts, but we've only witnessed natural processes on a handful of planets and moons. There's always the possibility that some process we haven't witnessed in our own solar system could be creating abundant supplies of oxygen on a planet in another solar system.

Not that this is at all likely, but it's certainly possible.

Re:The point (2, Informative)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 8 years ago | (#14191307)

Not that this is at all likely...

Indeed. The real catch is, oxygen tends to get consumed by other common geological and chemical processes. If all life on Earth died today, oxygen would become a trace element in the Earth's atmosphere within a few thousand years (i.e. practically instantaneously on a geological timescale). Whatever process was generating atmospheric O2 would have to be doing it currently and continuously and on a massive scale. Although alternatives are not impossible, so far, there is only one process in nature known to do fit this bill: life. Occam's Razor would suggest if such an atmosphere were discovered, this would be the best assumption to make, rather than proposing new entites (in this case, new, unprecedented plant-wide processes -- of course, astronomy books are full of a history of unprecedented discoveries).

Of course, we'd have more to go on than just O2. Life turns the whole atmosphere topsy-turvy, probability wise. Earth's atmosphere has numerous chemicals in it at levels that are wildly improbable for a world dominated by inorganic processes. If there are other worlds rich in life, the improbable O2 level would just be the tip of the iceberg. A truly living world should be pretty easy to identify with a spectroscope...

Re:The point (1)

oni (41625) | more than 8 years ago | (#14196019)

And you know this because you have witnessed the entirety of nature?

What a pissy, arrogant thing to say. What are you, 12 years old?

I can imagine what it must be like for a teacher to have you as one of his students.
teacher: "All life evolved from simpler life forms."
pedrito: "AND U KNOW THIS B/C U PERSONALY WITNES IT??? NO! I THINK NOT!!!!111"

lol. get over yourself dude. What I said was a fact. This telescope isn't going to produce the kind of image that hubble does. Nobody is going to have a picture of an extrasolar planet on his desktop. The planets will only be a couple of pixels. So what's the point in going through all the trouble and expense of imaging them? The point, as I've already said, is to run the light through a spectroscope and see what elements are there.

Surprise surprise, scientists are smarter than you.

Far too many assumptions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14192321)

You make far too many assumptions in your post to merit any useful comment.

Even your basic premise is flawed: that extra-terrestrial life is always oxygen-based. Quite possibly, the huge majority of life in the universe is not.

We simply don't have data on this.

Re:Far too many assumptions (1)

famebait (450028) | more than 8 years ago | (#14192434)

Even your basic premise is flawed: that extra-terrestrial life is always oxygen-based.

He doesn't say that at all. An implication is not necessarily an equivalence, or proposed to be one.

HOW!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14189080)

How can you see out of our solar system to another planet revolving around another sun well enough to tell that's what is going on?? Why cant we see the surface of Mars in >great detail then?? I hate science!

Retro/Lensmen feel to it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14189161)

Is it just me, or does this idea have a nice 1930's or earlier feel to it? It has a name that sounds like a device that E.E. Doc Smith might have had in one of his books. Anyway, I found this an interesting idea with a cool retro feel to it.

The problem... (1)

demondawn (840015) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189188)

...is that this doesn't really help all that much. It may help find some new extrasolar planets...maybe. It won't help us really image any of these planets, and that's what drives the exploratory nature of the space programs around the world; ideally, people want to be able to exploit planets beyond Earth, but in the meantime we're settling for a lot of really cool pictures. However, it's still VERY HARD to image even things at the edge of OUR solar system. Ever take a look at the -best- images of Pluto? They're absolutely terrible! We can do much better with things like X-ray inferometry, a technology that promises resolution up to 10^-7 arcseconds. Of course, it doesn't produce real-color images...but for that matter, we don't even have any good real color images of Venus. There are technologies that can give better results. (Disclaimer: I'm a student at the University of Colorado, home of the MAXIM X-Ray Inferometer)

Re:The problem... (3, Insightful)

m0nstr42 (914269) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189355)

Can't image things until you can find them. Can't find them if the starlight is making it impossible to discern the planet.

Re:The problem... (1)

Darth Hubris (26923) | more than 8 years ago | (#14194675)

By looking at many candidate stars, they will be able to discern if there is a planet there. There is no chicken before the egg issue here.

Extra-solar planets? (2, Interesting)

skelly33 (891182) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189527)

Frankly, I'm more interested in a comprehensive set of photos of our own solar system's planets, such as Pluto and the various "Planet X" candidates that pop on and off the public debate radar from over the years. At least we have the technology to actually visit these places today were we so inclined.

I'm not saying it's unimportant to continue with research like this, only that I wish more effort were put into slightly less glamorous subjects like Pluto that could actually do us some tangible good one day...

Re:Extra-solar planets? (2, Informative)

demondawn (840015) | more than 8 years ago | (#14190362)

Worry not, for New Horizons, set to launch in January, will reach Pluto in Summer 2015 (it's one of the fastest spacecraft we've ever designed, and will get a gravitational slingshot boost from Jupiter.) Among other things, the New Horizons spacecraft will take the first clear pictures of Pluto.

What the heck... (-1, Troll)

ruiner13 (527499) | more than 8 years ago | (#14189774)

Why does the front page of slashdot seem to be just a rehash of yesterday's articles linked off of fark? It used to be the other way around, but I guess the times they are a-changin'. At least the comment threads are a bit more civilized here, the only boobs are linked in the politics (and SCO) sections.

gHaaa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14190561)

Me and my tiny brain will go sit in the corner.

Can this be done without vortex lens? (2, Insightful)

mattr (78516) | more than 8 years ago | (#14191119)

This is extremely cool. I was wondering if there would be any way to do this in software (at least that technical explanation page shows there is a simulator) but thoguht that if it is based on slowing down light of a certain color, you would have to have all the phase info stored. Or at least extremely high resolution/range to have any data left after subtracting the green. I could be way off here but does anyone know of a way this technique could be used on an amateur telescope computationally based on light captured by a ccd without actually physically building a vortex lens? Is it true that this is based on a single color? Also, if you worked on the spectra of the star would this not also include spectra of the planet, i.e. is this really based on a pure black body incandescense i.e. pure green for this star and not really the full spectra of the star? Thanks.

100-to-1000 looks like a very poor efficiency (2, Interesting)

Herve5 (879674) | more than 8 years ago | (#14191897)

For information, the European Space agency has a project named Darwin that intends to cancel the light of a star by destructive interferometry, leaving the neigboring planet alone: from its specifications, I retain that in order to "see" the planet, you must damp the star from a factor 10^9 in visible light (10^6 in IR). Basically this is how the Earth looks like close to the sun: 10^9 times less brilliant.

Compared to this, the damping factor announced in the original paper (between 100 and 1000), would look, well, definitely unsufficient if it weren't for just a demo today...

I hope I wasn't too naughty, I didn't talk about the angular resolution needed.

Hervé

Re:100-to-1000 looks like a very poor efficiency (2, Funny)

bensch128 (563853) | more than 8 years ago | (#14192578)

"Destructive interferometry" - where you blow up the star so you can see the planet.

Cheers,
Ben

Re:100-to-1000 looks like a very poor efficiency (1)

Herve5 (879674) | more than 8 years ago | (#14195427)

:-D
in fact it means you'll shift half of the star light out of phase, so that instead of having "constructive interferometry" (ie, a dot of light at the center of the interferogram), the light from one of the arms of the interferometer cancels the other's.

This is supposed to happen *just* at the place of the star, and not at the planet location, which means the accuracy of this "cancelling" device must be indeed very great...

Hervé

marketing spin (1)

grozzie2 (698656) | more than 8 years ago | (#14192185)

Sounds like some researchers taking marketing lessons. They kinda missed the concept of 'the spin' though, took it literally, in thier quest to market themselves hunting for more welfare^H^H^H^H^H^H grant cheques.
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