The Shining: Alien Worlds Observed in Galaxies Beyond Milky Way

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0120a6acc3c6970c-320wi With some 500 known exoplanet apparently all around us (galactically speaking), a global team of researchers have kicked it up a notch.  Signals shining across millions of light years, from other galaxies, indicate the birth of solar systems – and we can see them.

The work is based on spectroscopy, the science of examining what wavelengths of light come in and extracting all kinds of information from it (far more than our eyes, which just say "that's blue" and call it a day).  Every material has a unique emission spectrum (very specific wavelengths they emit) and any intervening material absorbs it (according to the same spectroscopic signature).  This technique allows us to 'see' even when the light source is too faint or far away to make out detail any other way.

The Spitzer Space Telescope and Infrared Space Observatory collected data from over eighty galaxies, and from these mind-meltingly far-flung light sources we can see spectroscopic signs of spawning solar systems.  The received light (once adjusted for intergalactic red shift) shows three peaks: a huge spike for stellar material, a second peak from heated interstellar dust, and a faint third bump thought to result from circumstellar discs of material – like the one that eventually formed us.

This is awesome science: as well as literally finding new worlds where no-one has gone before, we can use this new discovery as a (limited) window into the history of our own system.  Discovering new things, and then using those to learn more new things. 

Luke McKinney via


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