Science Questions

When will we have photos of exoplanets?

Tue, 18th Mar 2014

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Question

Stephen Cwll asked:

How many years until we will be able to get a photograph of a planet outside our solar system? I mean a 'real' one as like one we'd see with the naked eye. Ok, it may need some digitalised enhancements not a photo that shows the levels of temperature, gases etc.

 

Answer

Tamela - Weve actually taken direct pictures of exoplanets, but Ill say that this is

still very much on the frontier of exoplanet studies. Early on, we were looking at just wobbles in the luminosity of the light from the star, what were looking at how it wobbles in space as well. But now, were starting to actually get direct imaging. I will say that it is mostly in the infrared spectrum of radiation. Although the Hubble Space Telescope has actually taken some images as well. If you look at these, they're pretty much that pale blue dot image. The bright star thats actually been blocked out by a filter because otherwise, wed be blinded by its light, and next to it, you just see this tiny little dot thats the planet theyve managed to isolate. It actually is a very, very powerful image to say this is another world. So, weve been doing this for some years and Ill just say it is a very tricky thing to do. You need to have very good understanding of the atmosphere that you're looking at. So, if you have a ground based telescope, you have to correct for what the atmosphere is doing in order to get a stable picture.

Chris - Tamela, thank you very much. Its amazing how fast its moved on though and how far we have come when you think when I was at school, people hadnt really got to grips with the concept that there might be planets around other stars.

Tamela - No, its early 90s that you finally got the first confirmed detections.

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