NASA’s Spitzer First To Crack Open Light of Faraway Worlds
For Release: February 21, 2007
NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has captured for the first time enough light from planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets, to identify signatures of molecules in their atmospheres. The landmark achievement is a significant step toward being able to detect possible life on rocky exoplanets and comes years before astronomers had anticipated.
“This is an amazing surprise,” said Spitzer project scientist Dr. Michael Werner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We had no idea when we designed Spitzer that it would make such a dramatic step in characterizing exoplanets.”
Spitzer, a space-based infrared telescope, obtained the detailed data, called spectra, for two different gas exoplanets. Called HD 209458b and HD 189733b, these so-called “hot Jupiters” are, like Jupiter, made of gas, but orbit much closer to their suns.