The University of Wyoming Physics and Astronomy department will devote three months of telescope time this summer towards studying the atmospheres of planets around other stars. This comes as a follow-up to recent space-based missions specifically designed to find hundreds of planets outside our solar system.
UW graduate student and project leader Cristilyn Gardner said planets can be studied as they pass between the telescope and their star with something called the transit method.
"What we're looking for is changes in planetary radius as it's crossing in front of its star… What that tells us can give us insights on what physical processes are going on in the upper atmosphere of these close in hot Jupiters," she explained.
Hot Jupiter planets are the size of Jupiter, but with orbits very close to their star. Gardner said by looking at these giant planets, their team will be able to determine the composition of the planet's upper atmosphere.
Gardner said that while astronomers don't see any hot Jupiters in our solar system, hot Jupiters in other systems can tell us a lot about atmospheres in general and provide clues to where extraterrestrial life may exist.
The team aims to study dozens of planets this summer to determine what makes up their atmospheres.
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