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Science And Nature

Photobombing exoplanets might thwart seek out extraterrestrial life

Artist’s concept of Kepler-186f, an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting a red dwarf star in the constellation Cygnus.

Light from other exoplanets might confuse telescopes’ seek out life on other worlds.(Image credit: NASA/Tim Pyle)

It’s frustrating whenever a stranger photobombs your loved ones photo if you are on vacation. However when an exoplanet photobombs an area telescope’s image of another exoplanet, it might actually ruin a scientist’s research.

Yes, planetary photobombing is really a thing type of. For individuals who have no idea what photobomb means, Merriam-Webster defines it as “to go in to the frame of an image as it has been taken as a tale or prank.” The catch is that exoplanets aren’t intentionally ruining an image, however they might inadvertently achieve this.

A fresh study led by Prabal Saxena, a scientist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, indicates a space telescope’s image of a distant exoplanet (that’s, a planet outside our solar system) may be contaminated by the light from another nearby exoplanet. Which could potentially create errors when analyzing data specifically the light spectra which could indicate an exoplanet’s chemical composition.

Related: The 10 most Earth-like exoplanets

“In the event that you viewed Earth sitting close to Mars or Venus from the distant vantage point, then based on once you observed them, it might seem they’re both same object,” Saxena said in a statement (opens in new tab).

Because space telescopes need to “see” across extremely vast distances, light diffraction could likely cause two exoplanets to visually merge. That triggers problems when scientists are trying to analyze the spectra of an exoplanet searching for biosignatures, or signs of life. Cross-contamination from the different object could completely confuse the outcomes.

Thus Saxena’s team suggested several methods which could mitigate planetary photobombing, from using multiple telescopes to look at exactly the same area to utilizing a single telescope to see the exoplanets over a protracted time period, which can help distinguish the thing from the photobomber because they move around in their orbits.

The scientists, however, say that more research must solve the issue effectively.

The team’s research was published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters (opens in new tab) on Aug. 11.

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Stefanie Waldek

Space.com contributing writer Stefanie Waldek is really a self-taught space nerd and aviation geek who’s passionate about everything spaceflight and astronomy. With a background in travel and design journalism, in addition to a Bachelor of Arts degree from NY University, she focuses on the budding space tourism industry and Earth-based astrotourism. In her leisure time, you will find her watching rocket launches or finding out about at the stars, wondering what’s out there. Find out more about her just work at www.stefaniewaldek.com (opens in new tab).

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