For the first time, scientists have succeeded in photographing an exoplanet from Earth with a CCD, essentially the same sensor that regular digital cameras use. In time, this should make it easier to search for exoplanets where life is possible.
Scientists at the University of Arizona were able to capture the previously discovered exoplanet Beta Pictoris b from Earth with the Magellan Telescope in Chile, in combination with the Magellan Adaptive Optics VisAO camera. The breakthrough is an important step in being able to photograph planets based on visible light. That in turn is important for the pursuit of planets that can contain life.
Until now, exoplanets from Earth could only be captured with infrared sensors, which detect the heat emitted by planets. The disadvantage is that only young large gas planets give off enough heat and older cooled planets, which are more likely to contain life, are undetectable. “Our main goal is to capture faint blue dots as the Earth is blue,” astronomer Laird Close said in a statement. “That’s what you want to look at when you’re looking for other planets: reflected blue light.”
Beta Pictoris b orbits its star nine times the distance between Earth and the Sun, and the planet’s mass is estimated to be 12 times that of Jupiter. The temperature of the atmosphere is 1427 degrees Celsius, as could be confirmed on the basis of the images. The system of which Beta Pictoris b is part is located 63.4 light-years from Earth. “Our image has the highest contrast yet of exoplanets so close to their star,” said Jared Males of the University of Arizona.