Uncovering Exo-Earths within the Dust

Posted by Michael Pinto on Oct 12, 2008 in Science |

What excites me about this research is that most of the exoplanets we’ve been finding are huge in scale like Jupiter or Saturn. This modeling shows how we might be able to find planets that are the size of our Earth. This doesn’t mean that we’ll be discovering aliens next week (after all Mars and Venus are about the size of earth but don’t support life) but it will bring us a step closer:

NASA Supercomputer Shows How Dust Rings Point to Exo-Earths

“Supercomputer simulations of dusty disks around sunlike stars show that planets nearly as small as Mars can create patterns that future telescopes may be able to detect. The research points to a new avenue in the search for habitable planets.

“It may be a while before we can directly image earthlike planets around other stars but, before then, we’ll be able to detect the ornate and beautiful rings they carve in interplanetary dust,” says Christopher Stark, the study’s lead researcher at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Working with Marc Kuchner at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Stark modeled how 25,000 dust particles responded to the presence of a single planet — ranging from the mass of Mars to five times Earth’s — orbiting a sunlike star. Using NASA’s Thunderhead supercomputer at Goddard, the scientists ran 120 different simulations that varied the size of the dust particles and the planet’s mass and orbital distance.”

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