New York’s Cornell University has just unveiled a stunning catalog of the solar system designed to help researchers “uncover the mysteries of exoplanets.”
Put together by astronomers Jack Madden and Lisa Kaltenegger from the Carl Sagan Institute at the university, the catalog is comprised of the known spectra and albedos (or the ratio of reflected light) of an assortment of planets, dwarf planets, and moons all across the solar system.
All in all, the new catalog features 19 bodies in our solar system, celebrating its wonderful diversity by showcasing both rocky and gaseous planets, icy and volcanic moons, as well as two dwarf planets.
Shining brightly in the pages of the catalog are all the eight planets and nine moons, along with dwarf planets Ceres, located in the asteroid belt stretching between Mars and Jupiter, and Pluto, nestled in the Kuiper belt beyond the orbit of Neptune.
Cornell refers to these spectral and albedo data as the “light-fingerprints” and hopes that the catalog will guide astronomers in their search for exoplanets and aid in many new discoveries.
“With this catalog of light-fingerprints, we will be able to compare new observations of exoplanets to objects in our own solar system — including the gaseous worlds of Jupiter and Saturn, the icy worlds of Europa, the volcanic world of Io and our own life-filled planet,” Kaltenegger said in a statement.
— Cornell Chronicle (@CornellNews) July 31, 2018
Anyone who’s interested in checking out the solar system catalog can do so on the website of the Carl Sagan Institute. Madden and Kaltenegger’s work has also been presented in a study published online in the journal Astrobiology and is set to be featured on the cover of its print version in December.
A ‘How To’ Of Exoplanet Finding
According to Cornell, the new catalog of spectra and albedos offers illuminating information on how to properly identify and categorize celestial objects depending on the resolution of their spectrum.
For instance, a rocky body like Venus could be easily mistaken for an icy world when observed from a great distance, because the planet doesn’t reflect sunlight from its surface, but rather from its thick atmosphere, rich in carbon dioxide.
This makes Venus give off similar colors to those observed in frozen planets, something which could also happen in the case of unknown exoplanets with equally dense atmospheres.
To make sure such future discoveries are accurately identified, researchers can now consult the new catalog and look at the high-resolution spectra of similar planets to compare their findings and dissipate the possible confusions.
— Lisa Kaltenegger (@KalteneggerLisa) July 31, 2018
The two astronomers have also included low-resolution data on the 19 planets, dwarf planets, and moons, as well as illustrations of how their colors would change were they to orbit other stars and not the sun.
This bounty of data could help astronomers figure out whether a newly-spotted object is more similar to Mars, Jupiter, or even our home planet, and might further the discovery of the next Earth-like exoplanet, notes Gizmodo.
“We need a reference catalog of all the planets and moons we already know, to compare these new exoplanet spectra to,” says Madden, who points out that spectral measurements will greatly benefit exoplanet science in the future.
An Alien’s View Of Our Solar System
But to the untrained eye of an astronomy enthusiast, this unique catalog of colors, brightness, and spectral lines provides a great opportunity to glance at our solar system from the perspective of a distant observer.
“This is what an alien observer would see if they looked at our solar system,” said Kaltenegge, who is the director of the Carl Sagan Institute.
How would our solar system appear to a distant observer? @CSInst’s Jack Madden and @KalteneggerLisa created a reference catalog of ‘light-fingerprints’ to compare to #exoplanet observations. https://t.co/0O4TA9Hl54 pic.twitter.com/IlAeQnu8dw
— Carl Sagan Institute (@CSInst) July 31, 2018