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The field of exoplanet research continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Thanks to missions like the Kepler Space Telescope, over four-thousand planets have been discovered beyond our Solar System, with more being confirmed all the time. Thanks to these discoveries and all that we’ve learned from them, the focus has begun to transition from the process of discovery to characterization.
For instance, a group of astronomers was able to image the surface of a planet orbiting a red dwarf star for the first time. Using data from the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, the team was able to provide a rare glimpse at the conditions on the planet’s surface. And while those conditions were rather inhospitable – akin to something like Hades, but with less air to breathe – this represents a major breakthrough in the study of exoplanets.
Study - Nature - Planet - LHS - Rocky
As they indicated in their study, which recently appeared in the journal Nature, the planet they observed (LHS 3844b) is a terrestrial (aka. rocky) body that orbits a cool M-type (red dwarf) star located 48.6 light-years from Earth. This planet was originally discovered by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) in 2018, is 1.3 times the radius of Earth, and orbits its star with a period of 11 days.
True to its name, TESS detected the planet using the Transit Method, where periodic dips in the star’s luminosity are indications that a planet is passing in front of it (aka. transiting) relative to the observer. During follow-up observations using data from Spitzer‘s Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), the team was able to detect light for the surface of LHS 3844b.
Prospect - Light - Planet - Surface - Brighter
Ordinarily, this is a difficult prospect because light reflected from the planet’s surface is drowned out by the much brighter light coming from the star. However, since the planet orbits so closely to its star, it...
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