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The Final Frontier
March 12, 2013 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Astronomers Conduct First Remote Reconnaissance of Another Planetary System
posted by Artw (37 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Spectra of extrasolar atmospheres. The future is pretty awesome.
posted by Shutter at 7:29 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm interested in how they can take this data, simulate it and get some idea of what these planets might look like.
posted by thylacine at 7:33 AM on March 12, 2013


Project 1640 has more details on the instrumentation

Holy shit, this is amazing. I had no idea it was even approaching possible to get a spectrum from something as tiny as an extrasolar planet.
posted by RogerB at 7:46 AM on March 12, 2013


So, bottom line - is it safe to take off our space helmets when we visit?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:46 AM on March 12, 2013


What's more amazing is that we can do this with instrumentation on the freakin' ground.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:57 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Amazing what they can do with that "enhance" button.
posted by marxchivist at 8:01 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, bottom line - is it safe to take off our space helmets when we visit?

Just don't touch anything.
posted by Artw at 8:02 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


is it safe to take off our space helmets when we visit?

Only if you can breathe methane or ammonia at 1300F.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:03 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Only if you can breathe methane or ammonia at 1300F.

I can.. but not for very long.
posted by DigDoug at 8:08 AM on March 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Saw this on Science Daily yesterday. Mind too blown to make a post about it. Fantastic stuff.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 8:16 AM on March 12, 2013


What's more amazing is that we can do this with instrumentation on the freakin' ground.

Using a telescope built in 1948.
posted by yoink at 8:29 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


A planet with an acetylene and methane atmosphere? Suddenly T. Boone Pickens got interested in space travel.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:29 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


"But the really exciting thing is that one day, the techniques we've developed will give us our first secure evidence of the existence of life on a planet outside our solar system."

How so? I wish they would have explained that. Does the presence of the right chemical makeup and temperature of a planet guarantee life?
posted by scottatdrake at 8:33 AM on March 12, 2013


Only if you can breathe methane or ammonia at 1300F.

Once you get past that first breath it gets easier.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:34 AM on March 12, 2013


Does the presence of the right chemical makeup and temperature of a planet guarantee life?

James Lovelock has argued for that, yes. If atmospheric gases that readily lock themselves up in other compounds (e.g. the oxygen in our own atmosphere) are present in quantities explicable only if some ongoing process is continuously replenishing them, some form of life is a plausible prime suspect.
posted by flabdablet at 8:40 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does the presence of the right chemical makeup and temperature of a planet guarantee life?

My understanding is they'd be looking for chemicals that are too unstable to exist in quantity without some process (like life) that continually replenishes them (like free oxygen).
posted by cosmic.osmo at 8:41 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


How so? I wish they would have explained that. Does the presence of the right chemical makeup and temperature of a planet guarantee life?

The theory is that life would create the chemical makeup. Free oxygen for instance would be a dead giveaway of an unusual life-like chemical process going on.
posted by Artw at 8:44 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quick --- send them a message so that they will get it in 128 years!
posted by goethean at 8:48 AM on March 12, 2013


James Lovelock has argued for that, yes.

But, on the other hand, he's a lunatic.
posted by yoink at 8:50 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does the presence of the right chemical makeup and temperature of a planet guarantee life?

No one knows for sure. He's being optimistic. But if we do discover life outside of this solar system, it'll probably be from spectral measurements like this. At least, life as we know it (the CHON variety).

The trick is, for each gas you find, you have to prove beyond a doubt that it could not have been produced by processes not involving a lifeform (abiotically, that is). Some think that large amounts of oxygen and ozone are a pretty good signature of life.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:55 AM on March 12, 2013


DigDoug: Only if you can breathe methane or ammonia at 1300F.

I can.. but not for very long.
The local star puts out 1,000 times as much UV as our Sun. Wear sunblock. Preferably at least SF100000.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:15 AM on March 12, 2013


James Lovelock has argued for that, yes.

But, on the other hand, he's a lunatic.


Not so much, but he's certainly had some wacky ideas that others have made wackier. His work on life detection predates that.

Our one available test case seems to bear it out so far.
posted by Artw at 9:27 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The trick is, for each gas you find, you have to prove beyond a doubt that it could not have been produced by processes not involving a lifeform

Yeah, Acetylene, nothing could live in that right? Ok, but it's not like such an organism would give off methane and amonia.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:28 AM on March 12, 2013


Only if you can breathe methane or ammonia at 1300F.

The local star puts out 1,000 times as much UV as our Sun.


Also, the spaceport is a dump. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:30 AM on March 12, 2013


Does the presence of the right chemical makeup and temperature of a planet guarantee life?

In all known cases.
posted by DU at 9:32 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It amazes me that they managed to get these results with a 65 year old telescope and some fancy software. If this trend continues, we might be able to see the oceans and landmasses on some exoplanets within a few decades.
posted by ymgve at 9:40 AM on March 12, 2013


Metafilter: a dead giveaway of an unusual life-like chemical process going on.
posted by namasaya at 10:01 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


we might be able to see the oceans and landmasses on some exoplanets within a few decades.

Get the porn industry involved and we'll be imaging the truculent acid-laced penta-nipples of the violent calving hive queens of Upsilon Andromedae IV before you can say "pass me the astro-lube".
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:04 AM on March 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Astrolube: If it's good enough for the truculent acid-laced penta-nipples of the violent calving hive queens of Upsilon Andromedae IV, then it's good enough for me.
posted by symbioid at 10:18 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just think, it's only been a few years that we've even been able to find these exoplanets, and already we can do spectral analysis? Mind. Blown.

I have been unable to find any significant event or anniversary for year 1640...any word on the origin of the project name?
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:22 AM on March 12, 2013


I can't find any direct confirmation of this, but my suspicion is that "1640" refers to 1640 nanometers, which is near the center of the H-band atmospheric window where you can do infrared work from the ground. If you go much shorter or longer than that you run into a bunch of absorption features from our atmosphere.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:34 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Astrolube: If it's good enough for the truculent acid-laced penta-nipples of the violent calving hive queens of Upsilon Andromedae IV, then it's good enough for me.

This issue of Heavy Metal sounds great!
posted by Artw at 10:39 AM on March 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just don't touch anything.

I understand Top Scientists can pet space cobras.
posted by ersatz at 10:59 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Still no comet-life.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on March 12, 2013


The thing to keep in mind about the telescope age is that it might have been built in 1948, but all of the instruments and support optics are very recent, and pretty damn fancy. This telescope does not function at all like it would have in the late 40's with photographic plates.

For astronomers thats part of the appeal of ground based telescopes - they are cheap compared to space and you can upgrade them for relatively cheaply with modern electronics/imaging technology to keep them current (say a few million for a cheap-ish instrument vs 120 for a *very cheap* space telescope aka a NASA small explorer mission which lasts ~2-15 years depending on lots of factors including luck and will never get physically repaired or upgraded and will use comparatively old tech because its hard to get tech space rated). And new Mirror/Materials technology generally develops slower than instrument technology so the chassis tend to stay current (mirror size creep and budget reductions in combination are the two major killers of telescopes, not age or catastrophic accidents for the most part).


kiltedtaco: yeah, that was my impression as well, and its also the wavelength their coronograph has been optimized for.
posted by McSwaggers at 1:27 PM on March 12, 2013


Never knew that this was a Vulcan term. . .

Class M, from the Vulcan term "Minshara," is a fictional classification for planets and planetoids in the Star Trek science fiction media franchise. Their atmospheres are composed of nitrogen and oxygen and have an abundance of liquid water necessary for carbon-based life to exist. Extensive plant and animal life often flourishes; often, a sentient race is also present. Earth is a textbook example of a Class M world; other Class M planets that appear throughout the franchise include Vulcan, Cardassia Prime, Bajor, Betazed, Romulus, Ferenginar, and Qo'noS.
posted by Danf at 2:04 PM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


This video of all the nearby stars with planets will make you cry
posted by homunculus at 12:22 PM on March 13, 2013


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