Thursday, April 12, 2007

Photo of Extrasolar Planets Revealed

This is an actual photo of the star GQ Lupi using Yepun, recognized on October 6, 2004. Yepun is one of the Very Large Array's (VLA) 8.2 meter telescopes. Based on astronomical models, the tiny white dot beside it is a young planet that's estimated to be a hundred thousand to two million years old. It's discoverers, Professor Ralph Neuhauser and his team, think that it is twice the diameter and mass of Jupiter. The picture on the left is an artistic depiction of how a planet is better "visible" in infrared light than in visible light. This is one reason why infrared telescopes can be better at finding extrasolar planets hidden by the glare of their parent star. Still, Neuhauser seems to have succeeded in taking a visual light photo of a one of them. Scientists have discovered at least 150 planets beyond the solar system and more are expected to be discovered.

Astronomers like the late Carl Sagan have promoted of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program and pioneered the science of exobiology. But so far, none of the type like ours have been discovered.

Sagan believed that the Drake equation suggested that a large number of extraterrestrial civilizations would form, but that the lack of evidence of such civilizations (the Fermi paradox) suggests that technological civilizations tend to destroy themselves rather quickly. David Morrison, Senior Scientist of the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) says that "if and when we do discover alien life, the possible relationships with life on Earth will be of prime scientific importance, such as whether such alien life uses genetic molecules like RNA and DNA."

While some say that Neuhauser is the first to have taken a photo of an extrasolar planet, an international European team of astronomers has confirmed that the photo below, taken in September 2004 was really the first picture of an extrasolar planet orbiting brown dwarf 2M1207 (named GPCC at the time).

So, who really took the very first picture? Maybe we should just credit them all.

No comments: