New Techniqe Aiding Planet Searches

TUCSON, Oct. 18 (UPI) — Astronomers in Chile say they’ve obtained images of a planet in a much closer orbit around its parent star than any other extrasolar planet previously found.

The discover was made possible by technology developed at the University of Arizona that blocks out certain parts of a star’s light, allowing planets to be spotted from signals previously drowned out by the star’s glare, reported Sunday.

Installed on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile is a small piece of glass with a highly complex pattern inscribed into its surface.

Called an Apodizing Phase Plate, the device blocks out the starlight in a very defined way, its developers say.

“This technique opens new doors in planet discovery,” said Phil Hinz, director of the UA’s Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics at Steward Observatory.

“Until now, we only were able to look at the outer planets in a solar system. … Now we can see planets on orbits much closer to their parent star.

“The technique we developed allows us to search for lower-mass gas giants about the size of Jupiter, which are more representative of what is out there,.

“For the first time, we can search around bright, nearby stars such as Alpha Centauri, to see if they have gas giants.”

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