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Tech advance may make Earth-sized exoplanet analysis easier

An illustration of a number of the different kinds of planets found by Kepler all lined up in a row.
types of planets Kepler found/NAA

Good project. Hope differs from hype by more than a single letter. From Brian Wang at ScienceNews:

Babak Saif and Lee Feinberg at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, have shown for the first time that they can dynamically detect subatomic- or picometer-sized distortions — changes that are far smaller than an atom — across a five-foot segmented telescope mirror and its support structure. Collaborating with Perry Greenfield at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the team now plans to use a next-generation tool and thermal test chamber to further refine their measurements.

proposed system to make picometer-level measurements/NASA, W. Hrybyk

To find life, these observatories would have to gather and focus enough light to distinguish the planet’s light from that of its much brighter parent star and then be able to dissect that light to discern different atmospheric chemical signatures, such as oxygen and methane. This would require a super-stable observatory whose optical components move or distort no more than 12 picometers, a measurement that is about one-tenth the size of a hydrogen atom. More.


See also: Some exoplanets may just be mirages


Rob Sheldon: NASA’s big announcement about exoplanets “underwhelming.” A inside-Mercury-orbiting rock that is over 800 degrees hot? And the Google AI angle was just an algorithm that learned to do pattern recognition on Kepler-data? This isn’t exactly new, just cheaper than the previous alternative. I’m underwhelmed. So many other things NASA could talk about in a press release, and this is the best they can offer?


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