UCSB: Developing Instruments to Directly Image Exoplanets

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UCSB: Developing Instruments to Directly Image Exoplanets

Post by bystander » Fri Mar 20, 2020 5:10 pm

Snapping a Space Shot: Physicists Will Develop
Instruments to Directly Image Exoplanets

University of California, Santa Barbara | 2020 Mar 19

A 10,000-pixel MKID array made by the Mazin lab for the DARKNESS
instrument at the Palomar 200-inch Telescope. Credit: Ben Mazin

The search for life on planets beyond our solar system has long been the purview of science fiction, but a UC Santa Barbara team supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation is now building the technology to do just that.

Over the last three decades astronomers have discovered more than 4,000 planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets. All but a few of these have been detected indirectly, by measuring the tiny effects they have on the light we receive from their host stars. These effects are so minute that they can only be measured with state-of-the-art, precision instruments.

Even with such instrumentation, mounted on the best observatories in the world, these indirect methods are best at finding planets that are rather close to their host stars, usually a small fraction of the Earth-Sun distance. What’s more, larger planets have stronger signals than smaller ones. Hence, small, rocky planets similar to Earth and Mars are far harder to detect than gas giants similar to Jupiter and Saturn. ...

The search for signs of extraterrestrial life will require not only detecting small, rocky planets, but also harvesting their light to look for biosignatures. These are chemical or physical presences that suggest life may be present. ...

The Mazin lab is part of a multi-university team of astronomers that the Heising-Simons Foundation is investing in to advance direct imaging technologies. The goal is to develop instrumentation sensitive enough to detect and characterize temperate, Earth-sized planets around nearby, low mass stars from ground-based observatories. ...
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