Astronomers Propose Giant Telescopes to Study Topography of Exoplanets

Researchers want to identify mountains, oceans and volcanoes on distant planets to find alien life.

Massive telescopes could help identify mountains, oceans and volcanoes on new planets outside of our solar system, according to two astronomers who recently published their proposal in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“With ever larger telescopes under design and a growing need to not just detect planets but also to characterize them, it is timely to consider whether there is any prospect of remotely detecting exoplanet topography in the coming decades,” Moiya McTier and her colleague David Kipping wrote. “If a planet rotates as it transits its parent star, its changing silhouette yields a time-varying transit depth, which can be observed as an apparent and anomalous increase in the photometric scatter… If such systems have a conservative occurrence rate of 10 per cent, we estimate that the upcoming Colossus or Overwhelmingly Large telescopes would be able to detect topography.”

In short, gigantic telescopes can help map the terrain of far-off planets, Scientific American writes, and collecting this information is vital to understanding whether or not that planet can hold life. We’re one stepping closer to finding out for certain that we’re not alone in the universe.

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