Friday, November 14, 2008

Awesome!

Okay, so I promise I'll get to the rest of the nuclear power debate soon!

First, though, I want to rave about the discoveries that are making the rounds.

You'll have heard it on NPR or possibly from some less useful news source. Today, and today only, you can see a link to it on my APOD gadget to the right.

The Hubble space telescope has imaged, in visible light, a planet orbiting another sun-like star. Yes, we've discovered more than three hundred extrasolar planets to date, but they have always been indirect observations (except one, but it was around a brown dwarf and the "planet" wasn't much smaller than the brown dwarf). We've seen their affects on their parent star, but we haven't seen them directly.

With this Hubble observation, that's changed. A planet about the same mass and radius as Jupiter was imaged as it orbited about 18 billion km around Fomalhaut. 18 billion km is about four times the distance between Neptune and our sun.

That's pretty awesome.

It gets even better.

There's a telescope on the Earth called Gemini. This telescope uses something called "Adaptive Optics" to remove distortions due to the atmosphere. This means that we can get better-than-Hubble images in some instances. Gemini directly imaged, also for the first time ever, a multiplanet solar system in the near-infrared. A third planet in this solar system (dubbed HR 8799) was imaged by another adaptive optics telescope, Keck.

The predictions a few years ago were that we would need large telescopes in space, imaging at the same time, and performing something called interferometry to directly image extrasolar planets.

Now, the above planets were visible to us because they're young. Very young. The planet around Fomalhaut is probably less than 200 million years old, and those around HR8799 are about 60 million years old. The HR8799 planets still hot from their formation, so they're glowing as well as reflecting their stars' light. The FomalhautB planet is so far from its parent star, has thinned the dust around the star just enough that we can see it reflecting starlight.

Regardless, this is wicked cool. We'll be chatting with the Ramans in no time.

Linky to a very excited astronomy blogger.

4 comments:

Grumpator said...

I think I could link to here and say it's a very excited astronomy blogger! That IS VERY COOL!

Kerry said...

how old is earth?

Shannon Stallard said...

WOW! Thats Awesome news! I am so stoked I have to stop typing and go look up web articles on it right now...
WHOOOHOOOOOOOO!!!!

I am Moses. said...

I guess I never answered Kerry's question. Earth is ~4.556 billion years old.