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Ask Ethan: What Will Our First Direct Image Of An Earth-Like Exoplanet Look Like?

16 Feb 2019, 15:01 UTC
Ask Ethan: What Will Our First Direct Image Of An Earth-Like Exoplanet Look Like?
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Left, an image of Earth from the DSCOVR-EPIC camera. Right, the same image degraded to a resolution of 3 x 3 pixels, similar to what researchers will see in future exoplanet observations.(NOAA/NASA/STEPHEN KANE)You’d be amazed at what you can learn from even one single pixel.Over the past decade, owing largely to NASA’s Kepler mission, our knowledge of planets around star systems beyond our own has increased tremendously. From just a few worlds — mostly massive, with quick, inner orbits, and around lower-mass stars — to literally thousands of widely-varying sizes, we now know that Earth-sized and slightly larger worlds are extremely common. With the next generation of coming observatories from both space (like the James Webb Space Telescope) and the ground (with observatories like GMTand ELT), the closest such worlds will be able to be directly imaged. What will that look like? That’s what Patreon supporter Tim Graham wants to know, asking:[W]hat kind of resolution can we expect? [A] few pixels only or some features visible?The picture itself won’t be impressive. But what it will teach us is everything we could reasonably dream of.An artist’s rendition of Proxima b orbiting Proxima Centauri. With 30-meter class telescopes like GMT and ELT, ...

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