Hunting molecules to find new planets


IMAGE: The world ends up being noticeable when trying to find WATER or COmolecules However, as there is no CH4 nor NH3 in its environment, it stays invisble when trying to find these molecules, …
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Credit: © UNIGE

Each exoplanet focuses on a star, like the Earth around theSun This is why it is normally difficult to acquire pictures of an exoplanet, so amazing is the light of its star. However, a group of astronomers, led by a scientist from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and member of NCCR PlanetS, had the concept of discovering particular molecules that exist in the world’s environment in order to make it noticeable, supplied that these very same molecules are missing from its star. Thanks to this ingenious strategy, the gadget is just delicate to the chosen molecules, making the star unnoticeable and enabling the astronomers to observe the world straight. The results appear in the journal Astronomy & &Astrophysics


(******************************************************** )now, astronomers might just really seldom straight observe the exoplanets they found, as they are masked by the huge luminescent strength of their stars. Only a couple of planets situated really far from their host stars might be differentiated on an image, in specific thanks to the SPHERE instrument set up on the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, and comparable instruments somewhere else. Jens Hoeijmakers, scientist at the Astronomy Department of the Observatory of the Faculty of Science of the UNIGE and member of NCCR PlanetS, questioned if it would be possible to trace the molecular structure of theplanets “By focusing on molecules present only on the studied exoplanet that are absent from its host star, our technique would effectively ” eliminate” the star,leaving only the exoplanet,” he discusses.

Erasing the star thanks to molecular spectra

To test this new strategy, Jens Hoeijmakers and a worldwide group of astronomers utilized archival images taken by the SINFONI instrument of the star beta pictoris, which is understood to be orbited by a huge world, beta pictoris b. Each pixel in these images consists of the spectrum of light gotten by that pixel. The astronomers then compared the spectrum consisted of in the pixel with a spectrum matching to an offered particle, for instance water vapour, to see if there is a connection. If there is a connection, it implies that the particle exists in the environment of the world. .

By using this strategy to beta pictoris b, Jens Hoeijmakers notifications that the world ends up being completely noticeable when he searches for water (WATER) or carbon monoxide gas (CO). However, when he uses his strategy to methane (CH4) and ammonia (NH3), the world stays unnoticeable, recommending the lack of these molecules in the environment of beta pictoris b.

Molecules,new planetary thermometer

The host star beta pictoris stays unnoticeable in all 4 circumstances. Indeed, this star is incredibly hot and at this heat, these 4 molecules are damaged. “This is why this technique allows us not only to detect elements on the surface of the planet, but also to sense the temperature which reigns there”, discusses the astronomer of the UNIGE. The truth that astronomers can not find beta pictoris b utilizing the spectra of methane and ammonia is for that reason constant with a temperature level approximated at 1700 degrees for this world, which is too expensive for these molecules to exist.

“This technique is only in its infancy”, enthuses JensHoeijmakers “It should change the way planets and their atmospheres are characterized. We are very excited to see what it will give on future spectrographs like ERIS on the Very Large Telescope in Chile or HARMONI on the Extremely Large Telescope which will be inaugurated in 2025, also in Chile,” he concludes. .


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