When will we have photos of exoplanets?

18 March 2014

Question

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 - We've actually taken direct pictures of exoplanets, but I'll 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 we're looking at how it wobbles in space as well. But now, we're 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 that's actually been blocked out by a filter because otherwise, we'd be blinded by its light, and next to it, you just see this tiny little dot that's the planet they've managed to isolate. It actually is a very, very powerful image to say this is another world. So, we've been doing this for some years and I'll 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. It's amazing how fast it's moved on though and how far we have come when you think - when I was at school, people hadn't really got to grips with the concept that there might be planets around other stars.

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

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