The Most Detailed ‘Direct Observation’ of an exoplanet Revealed by Scientists

We just got the most-detailed 'Direct Observation' of a distant alien world.

Meet HR 8799e, an exoplanet located 129 light-years away from earth. This mysterious alien planet, home to scorching temperatures of up to 1000 degrees Celsius and gigantic clouds of iron and dust is the first exoplanet studied directly using a technique called optical interferometry.

Thanks to this technique, we’ve been able to gather the most detailed analysis of a distant planet outside of our solar system.

There’s aren’t any aliens there as far as we know, since for life to exist, based on our assumptions, the world is totally inhospitable.

Despite this, the technique used to study the distant world could be used in the future to study planets that are considered hospitable.

Observing distant exoplanets directly is very difficult, and a nearly impossible task. That’s because these worlds are located at extreme distances from us, which makes them appear very dim, and difficult to spot near their stars.

HR 8799 (center) with HR 8799e (right), HR 8799d (lower right), HR 8799c (upper right), HR 8799b (upper left). Image Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory.
HR 8799 (center) with HR 8799e (right), HR 8799d (lower right), HR 8799c (upper right), HR 8799b (upper left). Image Credit: W. M. Keck Observatory.

Nonetheless, imaging exoplanets directly is a big deal. In fact, of the nearly 4,000 confirmed exoplanets, aver y select group was imaged directly.

But most importantly, we do have the tech. It may not be the very best, but at least it something.

And we can thank the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile for observing some of those planets.

The images are not great, and most of the times are extremely fuzzy which doesn’t allow us to obtain precise details of the conditions that exist there.

The observations we have today were taken thanks to optical interferometry data from the GRAVITY instrument on the VLT.

This combination, practically a super telescope, has yielded 10 times the resolution of previous observations, which means that scientists were able to gather more detailed analysis of the exoplanet’s spectrum, which in turn revealed that the planet is made of, giving us an idea of its chemical composition.

As noted by the European Southern Observatory:

“Today’s result, which reveals new characteristics of HR8799e, required an instrument with very high resolution and sensitivity. GRAVITY can use ESO’s VLT’s four unit telescopes to work together to mimic a single larger telescope using a technique known as interferometry.”

“This creates a super-telescope — the VLTI  — that collects and precisely disentangles the light from HR8799e’s atmosphere and the light from its parent star.”

The world observed directly by astronomers is a planet unlike anything in our own solar system.

As explained by astronomers, HR8799e is a ‘super-Jupiter,’ both more massive and younger than any planets orbiting our sun.

The massive exoplanet is around 30 million years old, which means it can offer scientists with important details on the formation of other planets and planetary systems.

“Our analysis showed that HR8799e has an atmosphere containing far more carbon monoxide than methane — something not expected from equilibrium chemistry,” explained team leader Sylvestre Lacour researcher CNRS at the Observatoire de Paris – PSL and the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.

“We can best explain this surprising result with high vertical winds within the atmosphere preventing the carbon monoxide from reacting with hydrogen to form methane.”

The research has been published in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Via
ESO
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