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Exoplanet Climate ‘decoder’ helps in search for life

The surface of the planet, the colour of the sun, and how many clouds surround the planets can change an exoplanet’s climate significantly.

May 19, 2020 14:39 IST
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The astronomers from Cornell University have been successful in developing a practical model- an environmental colour ‘decoder’- to get the climate clues of potentially habitable exoplanets in the faraway galaxies. The model was developed after examining a dozen types of a roster of planet surfaces and suns.

Jack Madden who works in the lab of Lisa Kaltenegger, director of Cornell’s Carl Sagan Institute, explained that it was observed that how different planetary surfaces in the habitable zones of the distant solar system can affect the climate on exoplanets.

As per Jack Madden, the light reflected on the surface of planets plays a crucial role not only on the overall planet but also on the detectable spectra of Earth-like planets.

How the research took place?

Lisa Kaltenegger and Jack Madden are the co-authors of ‘How surfaces shape the climate of habitable exoplanets’, which was released in the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

In the mentioned research, they combined the detail of a planet’s surface colour and the light from its host star in order to calculate a climate. An example will be, a rocky, black, basalt planet will absorb light well and will be very hot but if there is an addition of sand and clouds, the planet will cool. While a planet with vegetation and circling a reddish K Star is likely to have cool temperature because of how these surfaces reflect their sunlight.

Madden further explained this with an example of a shirt stating that if you wear a dark colour shirt on a hot summer day, you will heat up more as the shirt is not reflecting light. It absorbs lights and retains heat. But if you wear a light colour shirt, it will reflect the light and the shirt will keep you cool.

Kalteneggar mentioned that it is the same with the stars and planets. Depending on the exoplanet’s primary colour and the kind of star, the planet’s colour is able to mitigate some of the energy given off by the star.

Kalteneggar also added that what makes up the surface of the planet, the colour of the sun, and how many clouds surround the planets can change an exoplanet’s climate significantly.

Instruments to gather advanced data:

Jack Madden informed that the forthcoming instruments such as the Earth-Bound Extremely large Telescope will allow scientists in gathering data to test a catalogue of climate predictions. As there is an important interaction between the colour of the surface and the light hitting it, the effects found based on the planet’s surface properties will help in the search of life.

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