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The Study of Climate on Alien Worlds

Characterizing atmospheres beyond our Solar System is now within our reach

Kevin Heng

2012-07HengF1.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageSpace and ground telescopes have located thousands of planets outside of our solar system. Such exoplanets can still only be seen as little more than pinpoints of light. Nonetheless, astronomers are now able to decipher some details of these distant worlds, such as the basic structures of their atmospheres. Instruments can now detect an exoplanet by recording the diminution of light as the body, residing in an edge-on orbit, passes either in front of or behind its host star. Such a technique has enabled astronomers to make the first detections of the light directly emitted by an exoplanet, which typically appears at its brightest in the infrared. Astrophysicists are working with atmospheric and climate models developed for Earth, but must be mindful of the current dearth of data for exoplanets.

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