Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Earth-like planets may be ready for their close-up

Date:
June 25, 2010
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Many scientists speculate that our galaxy could be full of places like Pandora from the movie "Avatar" -- Earth-like worlds in solar systems besides our own.

From left to right: JPLers Felipe Santos Fregoso, Piotr Szwaykowski, Kurt Liewer and Stefan Martin with the nulling interferometer testbed at JPL, where the device is built and refined. Image credit:
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Many scientists speculate that our galaxy could be full of places like Pandora from the movie "Avatar" -- Earth-like worlds in solar systems besides our own.

That doesn't mean such worlds have been easy to find, however. Of the 400-plus planets so far discovered, none could support life as we know it on Earth.

"The problem with finding Earth-like planets," said Stefan Martin, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., "is that their host stars can emit 10 million times more infrared light than the planet itself. And because planets like ours are small and orbit very close to their respective stars, it makes Earths almost impossible to see."

Together with A.J. Booth (formerly at JPL and now at Sigma Space Corp., Lanham, Md.), Martin may have developed a way to make this almost impossible feat a reality.

Their instrument design, called a "nulling interferometer," observes planets in infrared light, where they are easier to detect. It is designed to combine starlight captured by four different telescopes, arranging the light waves from the star in such a way that they cancel each other out. "We're able to make the star look dimmer -- basically turning it off," Martin said.

Nulling interferometry is not a new idea, but what sets the results from Martin and Booth apart is how effective it turned out to be. "Our null depth is 10 to 100 times better than previously achieved by other systems," Martin said. "This is the first time someone has cross-combined four telescopes, set up in pairs, and achieved such deep nulls. It's extreme starlight suppression."

That suppression could allow scientists to get a better look at exoplanets than ever before. "We're able to make the planet flash on and off so that we can detect it," Martin said. "And because this system makes the light from the star appear 100 million times fainter, we would be able to see the planet we're looking for quite clearly."

Pandora, up close and personal

Nulling interferometry isn't the only way scientists can find other Earths. NASA's Kepler mission, currently in orbit, is looking for Earth-like planets by watching the light of faraway stars dim slightly as their planets pass in front of them. Another method of observing exoplanets is coronagraphy, which uses a mask to block the optical light of a star, making its surrounding planets more easily visible. And the proposed SIM Lite mission would also be able to find nearby planets by observing the gravity-induced "wobbling" of their host stars.

However, Martin and Booth's nulling interferometer could eventually give astronomers the ability to get up close and personal with Earth-like worlds, analyzing their atmospheres for signs of habitability or even possibly life. "We expect to eventually be able to see hundreds of planets with this technique," Martin said.

The technology that they've developed could be used on a follow-up space mission to SIM Lite and Kepler. Martin is now planning to test the system in conditions that better mimic a real-life mission.

Once considered the stuff of science fiction, it may not be long before Earth-like planets, or, in the case of Pandora, Earth-like moons of giant planets, are found to exist other places besides the silver screen.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Earth-like planets may be ready for their close-up." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624141700.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2010, June 25). Earth-like planets may be ready for their close-up. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624141700.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Earth-like planets may be ready for their close-up." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100624141700.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Monday, September 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Space Shuttle Discovery's Legacy, 30 Years Later

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) The space shuttle Discovery launched for the very first time 30 years ago. Here's a look back at its legacy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Experiment Tests Whether Universe Is Actually A Hologram

Newsy (Aug. 27, 2014) Researchers at Fermilab are using a device called "The Holometer" to test whether our universe is actually a 2-D hologram that just seems 3-D. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Explodes After Liftoff

Newsy (Aug. 23, 2014) The private spaceflight company says it is preparing a thorough investigation into Friday's mishap. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Did Russia Really Find Plankton On The ISS? NASA Not So Sure

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) Russian cosmonauts say they've found evidence of sea plankton on the International Space Station's windows. NASA is a little more skeptical. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins