Feeds

NASA's search for habitable planets maps ALIEN CLOUD-WORLD

First step to finding breathable atmosphere

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

NASA has mapped the "cloud" structure of an alien world for the first time using its Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes, an early step towards finding planets with human-compatible atmospheres.

Partially Cloudy Skies on Kepler-7b

Kepler-7b (L), which is 1.5 times the radius of Jupiter (R), has its clouds mapped by Kepler and Spitzer.

While the agency has been able to figure out the temperature of distance planets before, the study of hot, Jupiter-like Kepler 7b is the first map of a world's skies.

"By observing this planet with Spitzer and Kepler for more than three years, we were able to produce a very low-resolution 'map' of this giant, gaseous planet," said MIT's Brice-Olivier Demory, lead author of the study. "We wouldn't expect to see oceans or continents on this type of world, but we detected a clear, reflective signature that we interpreted as clouds."

Kepler 7b was one of the first of the more than 150 exoplanets the Kepler telescope has spotted outside our solar system. Before the scope's issues with its reaction wheels stopped it from hunting new worlds, Kepler had gathered four years' worth of data, which boffins are still analysing.

In visible-light observations, Kepler saw a bright spot on the western hemisphere of 7b, but wasn't able to identify it without help from Spitzer. Spitzer used infrared light to measure the planet's temperature, estimating it at between 1,500 and 1,800 Fahrenheit (815°C to 982°C) – too cool to be the source of the light Kepler had seen.

"Kepler-7b reflects much more light than most giant planets we've found, which we attribute to clouds in the upper atmosphere," said Thomas Barclay, Kepler scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center. "Unlike those on Earth, the cloud patterns on this planet do not seem to change much over time – it has a remarkably stable climate."

The study gives boffins a place to start when attempting to figure out the atmospheres of planets that are more like Earth in composition and size and that could be future homes for the human race.

"With Spitzer and Kepler together, we have a multi-wavelength tool for getting a good look at planets that are trillions of miles away," said Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division.

"We're at a point now in exoplanet science where we are moving beyond just detecting exoplanets, and into the exciting science of understanding them."

The full study, "Inference of in homogeneous clouds in an exoplanet atmosphere", will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters and can be found online here (PDF). ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.