Previous in Forum: Mars Passage   Next in Forum: Airbus A330-200
Close
Close
Close
The Engineer
Engineering Fields - Engineering Physics - Physics... United States - Member - NY Popular Science - Genetics - Organic Chemistry... Popular Science - Cosmology - New Member Ingeniería en Español - Nuevo Miembro - New Member

Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Albany, New York
Posts: 5170
Good Answers: 129

Detecting Oceans on Extrasolar Planets

05/27/2009 11:12 AM

Found this interesting article on Science Blog.

NASA/University team develops new method to find alien oceans

GREENBELT, Md. -- NASA-sponsored scientists looking back at Earth with the Deep Impact/EPOXI mission have developed a method to indicate whether Earth-like alien (extrasolar) worlds have oceans.

"A 'pale blue dot' is the best picture we will get of an Earth-like extrasolar world using even the most advanced telescopes planned for the next couple decades," said Nicolas B. Cowan, of the University of Washington. "So how do we find out if it is capable of supporting life? If we can determine that the planet has oceans of liquid water, it greatly increases the likelihood that it supports life. We used the High Resolution Imager telescope on Deep Impact to look at Earth from tens of millions of miles away -- an 'alien' point of view -- and developed a method to indicate the presence of oceans by analyzing how Earth's light changes as the planet rotates. This method can be used to identify extrasolar ocean-bearing Earths."

Cowan is lead author of a paper on this research appearing in the August 2009 issue of the Astrophysical Journal. Our planet looks blue all the time because of Rayleigh scattering of sunlight by the atmosphere, the same reason that the sky appears blue to us down on the surface, points out Cowan. "What we studied in this paper was how that blue color changes in time: oceans are bluer than continents, which appear red or orange because land is most reflective at red and near-infrared wavelengths of light. Oceans only reflect much at blue (short) wavelengths," said Cowan.

The maps that the team created are only sensitive to the longitudinal (East - West) positions of oceans and continents. Furthermore, the observations only pick out what is going on near the equator of Earth: the equator gets more sunlight than higher latitudes, and the EPOXI spacecraft was above the equator when the observations were taken. These limitations of viewing geometry could plague observations of extrasolar planets as well: "We could erroneously see the planet as a desert world if it had a nearly solid band of continents around its equator and oceans at its poles," said Cowan.

story continues here

Reply
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Previous in Forum: Mars Passage   Next in Forum: Airbus A330-200

Advertisement