Scientists have learned a new way to weigh exoplanets




Scientists have learned a new way to weigh exoplanets

New method for measuring the mass of distant alien worlds will help to identify their suitability for life. Over the past twenty years, astronomers have confirmed the existence of more than 900 planets outside our solar system and found more than 2,300 potential worlds. Now scientists want to study them in detail.

Knowing the mass exoplanets, scientists hope to calculate the composition of its surface and atmosphere – factors affecting the ability to sustain life. Based on the knowledge gained can be understand the processes occurring within a particular planet – to study thermoregulation, plate tectonics and magnetic fields and gas flows in the atmosphere of exoplanets.

Weight is everything. Without it, you will not be able to determine many of the properties of the planet – says study lead author Julien de Wit from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

However, existing methods for measuring mass exoplanets have limitations. Found wide application method radial (radial) velocity, which involves tracking repetitive oscillations star caused by the gravitational field of the planet. Knowledge of the forces of attraction allows to calculate the mass of the planet.

The problem is that the method does not work radial velocity with many of the planetary systems. Very difficult to measure the mass of light objects and planets far from their stars at large distances. It can also prevent the high activity of the star.


According to, the new strategy allows you to measure the mass of the planet by scanning its atmosphere. With increasing altitude the atmosphere becomes thinner as the world. This is due to the gravitational attraction of letting up. Since the force of attraction of the planet depends on its mass, the researchers can find a lot of exoplanets, watching how the thickness of the atmosphere depending on the altitude. The implication here is watching starlight through the atmosphere at the time of the exoplanet passing in front of a star. Limitation of this method is that it only works in relation to the planets atmosphere.

Technique, dubbed MassSpec, scientists tested the exoplanet HD 189733b, which is located at a distance of about 63 light years from Earth. This exoplanet was discovered in 2005, but its true light showed recently. The masses have been found in two different ways, coincided: the mass of HD 189733b is about 1.15 Jupiter masses.

While that method works only with MassSpec gas giants, comparable in size to Jupiter and Saturn, but allows us to calculate the mass of the gaseous planets, whose highly stars do not give use the radial velocities.

The new method can be used in subsequent missions NASA and the European Space Agency, with the activation of telescopes “James Webb” and EChO (The Exoplanet Characterisation Observatory) with the aim of search for potentially habitable planets .

Detail the work of scientists from MIT highlighted in the latest issue of the journal Science.
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Tags: Extraterrestrial life , Telescopes , Exoplanets .


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