New Science Discovery: For the First Time, Planet Captured Outside Solar System Using Earth-Based Telescope

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By Alyssa Ashley Lucas | March 7, 2014 4:43 PM EST

It would have been unbelievable to hear an earth-based telescope, using exactly the "same type of imaging sensor found in digital cameras," capturing images of planets outside the solar system, if it wasn't for a new breakthrough in technology. Based on a new study conducted by the University of Arizona (UA) researchers, it is indeed, possible and believable.

For the first time, astronomers were able to capture images of a planet outside the solar system using the imaging sensor found in digital cameras instead of the infrared detector that is normally used. The device used is called a charge-coupled device or CCD.

Scitech Daily reported  that the new technology still has a very long way to go. Nevertheless, it has brought astronomers a step closer to capture earth-like planets around the stars.

Jared Males, a NASA Sagan Fellow in the UA's Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory, claimed that it was an important next step in the search for what was termed "exoplanets." He also said that imaging in visible light instead of infrared is what they need to detect planets that can harbor life.

The planet captured by CCD is called Beta Pictoris b, which "orbits its star at only nine times the Earth-Sun distance," or roughly the same distance as Saturn from the Sun. The team of astronomers who captured Beta Pictoris b estimated that the planet weighs in at about 12 times the mass of Jupiter.

According to the report, CCD opens up the possibility of taking photographs of the planets in visible light, which has not been possible before with Earth-based telescopes.

"Our ultimate goal is to be able to image what we call pale blue dots," Laird Close, a professor in the Department of Astronomy, who co-authored the paper, as also reported by Scitech, said. "After all, the Earth is blue. And that's where you want to look for other planets: in reflected blue light."

The report explained that the use of infrared detector limit the technology since it can only detect heat. Planets that have long been cooled since its information would less likely show up. So to image the cooled planets, the astronomers will have to use CCD cameras, as the older, cooled planets have the possibilities of being habitable.

Different kinds of CCD cameras have already been popular, but all have only been there to capture the night sky. To be able to capture a planet outside the solar system is a new science discovery.

Researchers are taking extra efforts to bring the world images of what really are out there. Through the adoptive optics system that Laird Close and his team developed, everything had been possible. The technology was called the Magellan Adaptive Optics or MagAO. Click here to know more about the study. 

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