Friday, 7 August 2009

That is Awesome

Or really fucking cool.

NASA held a press conference today about early scientific results from the Kepler space telescope, a mission designed to detect Earthlike planets orbiting distant stars.

As a test of its abilities, it observed the star known as HAT-P-7, which is known to have a roughly Jupiter-sized world orbiting it every 2.2 days. This planet, called HAT-P-7b, is far too close to the star to be seen directly, but every time it passes in front of the star, the light we see drops.

Another cool thing is in that data too. See how the light slowly rises and drops over time? We’re actually detecting the phases of the planet as it orbits the star! As the Moon orbits the Earth, we see it going from mostly dark (new Moon) to half lit to full, getting brighter over two weeks. Then once it’s past full we see more and more unlit surface, so it appears to dim over time. The same thing is happening to the planet HAT-P-7b as it orbits the star. Right after the eclipse event we are seeing it as "new", with the dark side facing us. As it orbits, we see more and more lit up, until it passes behind the star. After that secondary eclipse, we see the light from the planet get dimmer.

Boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada!

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