UCLA Astronomers Reverse-Engineered A Genius Hack To See What Exoplanets Are Made Of
Astronomers at the University of California Los Angeles have reverse-engineered a genius way to determine what the cores of exoplanets are made of, according to Science Alert, and they didn't hesitate to publish it in the peer-reviewed journal Science.
Exoplanets are distant planets orbiting another star outside our solar system. The closest one is Proxima Centauri-b, at a distance of around four short light-years away. Due to their small size and exceptional distance, it is incredibly difficult to learn about these planets.
Alexandra Doyle, an astrochemist at UCLA, turned her team's attention to the light emitted by six white dwarf stars ranging from 200 to 600 light-years away. A white dwarf star is the dense, hot core that remains after a star has burned away all of its fuel. It's so dense that only the lightest of elements can stay afloat in its shallow atmosphere. So researchers decided to analyze the wavelengths emitted by the dust, asteroids, and debris surrounding these stars.
"By observing these white dwarfs and the elements present in their atmosphere, we are observing the elements that are in the body that orbited the white dwarf," Doyle explained. "If I were to just look at a white dwarf star, I would expect to see hydrogen and helium."
Instead, the researchers found traces of dozens of other elements, including one very important chemical bond: high levels of iron oxide, or rust.
This is actually major. According to UCLA cosmochemist Edward Young, "All the chemistry that happens on the surface of the Earth can ultimately be traced back to the oxidation state of the planet...The fact that we have oceans and all the ingredients necessary for life can be traced back to the planet being oxidised as it is."
Young continued, "We have just raised the probability that many rocky planets are like the Earth, and there's a very large number of rocky planets in the universe."