Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Understanding clouds as a necessary ingredient in the search for life: Case study of exoplanet Kepler-7b

Date:
September 26, 2013
Source:
University of Bern
Summary:
Scientists have produced the first map of clouds on an exoplanet using the Kepler Space Telescope. Studying the atmospheres of exoplanets is the path towards ultimately identifying life elsewhere in the Universe. Understanding the role of clouds in exoplanet atmospheres is a necessary ingredient in the cosmic hunt for life.

Kepler 7b (left), which is 1.5 times the radius of Jupiter (right), is the first exoplanet to have its clouds mapped. The cloud map was produced using data from NASA's Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT

An international team, with participation from the University of Bern, has produced the first map of clouds on an exoplanet using the Kepler Space Telescope. Studying the atmospheres of exoplanets is the path towards ultimately identifying life elsewhere in the Universe. Understanding the role of clouds in exoplanet atmospheres is a necessary ingredient in the cosmic hunt for life.

Related Articles


Discovered three years ago by astronomers using the Kepler Space Telescope, the exoplanet Kepler-7b orbits a Sun-like star outside of our Solar System. An unusual property of Kepler-7b is that it is unusually reflective to starlight: it reflects about 50% of the visible light incident upon its atmosphere. This motivated a detailed investigation by an international team of astronomers, including participation from the Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern.

The team measured reflected starlight for the entire orbit of Kepler-7b around its star, much like how one would measure the different phases of the Moon orbiting Earth, producing a "phase curve," which can be directly transformed into a crude map (with only east-west information). The unexpected structure present in the map, together with the unusually high reflectivity of the atmosphere, implied the existence of clouds. An analysis of the map structure also set constraints on the size of the cloud particles. This first measurement of a map of clouds was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters (Demory et al. 2013). Another paper demonstrating the unusual reflectivity of Kepler-7b, compared to its peers, was published in the Astrophysical Journal (Heng & Demory 2013).

Together with the "blue planet" study (of the exoplanet HD 189733b) by Evans et al. (2013), these studies are the first to empirically investigate the details of clouds in the atmospheres of exoplanets. Kevin Heng from the CSH was involved in all three studies. "Clouds are a nuisance, because they hinder us from performing a unique interpretation of an exoplanet atmosphere," explains Heng. When clouds are present in an atmosphere, there may be hundreds of ways of interpreting its chemical abundances. This is especially acute in the search for life elsewhere in the Universe, which must proceed through the characterization of the atmospheres of exoplanets. "The fear is that clouds will confuse our ability to clearly identify the signatures of life from scrutinizing the spectrum of an exoplanetary atmosphere, which is why we are investing time and energy to understand the effects of clouds," said Heng.

The Exoplanets and Exoclimes Group (EEG) of Kevin Heng is based at the University of Bern and specializes in the theory and simulation of exoplanet science. The EEG works closely with a network of astronomers, including Geneva Observatory, the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Oxford University, seeking advice on designing their theoretical studies to interpret the astronomical data, while also assisting the astronomers in formulating new ideas for their research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Bern. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal References:

  1. Brice-Olivier Demory, Julien de Wit, Nikole Lewis, Jonathan Fortney, Andras Zsom, Sara Seager, Heather Knutson, Kevin Heng, Nikku Madhusudhan, Michael Gillon, Thomas Barclay, Jean-Michel Desert, Vivien Parmentier, Nicolas B. Cowan. Inference of Inhomogeneous Clouds in an Exoplanet Atmosphere. Astrophysical Journal Letters, 2013, in press
  2. Kevin Heng, Brice-Olivier Demory. Understanding Trends Associated with Clouds in Irradiated Exoplanets. Astrohysical Journal, 2013, in press

Cite This Page:

University of Bern. "Understanding clouds as a necessary ingredient in the search for life: Case study of exoplanet Kepler-7b." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130926102431.htm>.
University of Bern. (2013, September 26). Understanding clouds as a necessary ingredient in the search for life: Case study of exoplanet Kepler-7b. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130926102431.htm
University of Bern. "Understanding clouds as a necessary ingredient in the search for life: Case study of exoplanet Kepler-7b." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130926102431.htm (accessed December 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Spokesman: 'NORAD Ready to Track Santa'

Spokesman: 'NORAD Ready to Track Santa'

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said that NORAD is ready to track Santa Claus as he delivers gifts next week. Speaking tongue-in-cheek, he said if Santa drops anything off his sleigh, "we've got destroyers out there to pick them up." (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA's Planet-Finding Kepler Mission Isn't Over After All

NASA's Planet-Finding Kepler Mission Isn't Over After All

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) More than a year after NASA declared the Kepler spacecraft broken beyond repair, scientists have figured out how to continue getting useful data. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) NASA's Curiosity rover detected methane on Mars and organic compounds on the surface, but it doesn't quite prove there was life ... yet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Reuters - US Online Video (Dec. 16, 2014) NASA's Mars Curiosity rover finds methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic chemicals in the planet's soil, the latest hint that Mars was once suitable for microbial life. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

More Coverage


Scientists Generate First Map of Clouds on an Exoplane: Map Reveals Lopsided Cloud Distribution on Extremely Hot Planet

Oct. 3, 2013 On the exoplanet Kepler 7b, the weather is highly predictable, an international team of scientists has found: On any given day, the exoplanet, which orbits a star nearly 1,000 light-years from Earth, ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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