Seeing Planets Like Never Before

High-tech imaging system provides a detailed look at new planets.
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- A new high-tech imaging system is giving astronomers a very detailed look at some bizarre new planets discovered in a different solar system. This technology may help us learn about our beginnings and possible life on other planets.

The planets that the astronomers are seeing are 128 light years away. They’re exoplanets, meaning they orbit around a different sun than our Earth does.

"It’s nothing like our solar system in that the star is more massive and the planets are larger," said Lynne Hillenbrand, an astronomer at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory in California.

The star is called HR 8799 and until now the glare from this massive star made it impossible to see the planets. But now, astronomers have developed a new telescope imaging system that is able to find never-before-seen planets.

 "This technology aims to suppress the light from the star and reveal the very faint companions of the stars that are potentially planetary mass," Hillenbrand said.

Astronomers were able to find four planets orbiting this sun with the new technology. Every second, it makes millions of tiny adjustments to two six-inch mirrors in the system.

"The adaptive-optic system uses rapid correction of a mirror to exactly compensate for the distortions that are induced by the Earth’s atmosphere," said Richard Dekany, an astronomer at Caltech’s Palomar Observatory.

These adjustments deliver clear, undistorted images to the telescope on the ground. The system also blocks light from surrounding stars, allowing them to see the planets. From their observations, scientists have learned this solar system is young and the planets are toxic and too hot to sustain life.

"By looking into these four exoplanets it will give us some insight into how these solar systems were formed and whether our solar system formed in a similar or a different way," said Dekany.

This technology is allowing us to find planets and look for life outside our solar system. 


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Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.