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MIT, others ask 'What would E.T. see?'
Date:12/21/2007

CAMBRIDGE, Mass As astronomers become more adept at searching for, and finding, planets orbiting other stars, its natural to wonder if anybody is looking back. Now, a team of astronomers that includes a professor from MIT has figured out just what those alien eyes might see using technologies being developed by Earths astronomers.

According to their analysis, among other things E.T. could probably tell that our planets surface is divided between oceans and continents, and learn a little bit about the dynamics of our weather systems.

Maybe somebodys looking at us right now, finding out what our rotation rate is that is, the length of our day, says Sara Seager, associate professor of physics and the Ellen Swallow Richards Associate Professor of Planetary Sciences at MIT.

Seager, along with Enric Palle and colleagues at the Instituto de Astrofsica de Canarias, in Spain, and Eric Ford (MIT S.B. 1999) of the University of Florida, have done a detailed analysis of what astronomers here and on other worlds could learn about a planet from very distant observations, using telescopes much more powerful than those currently available to Earths astronomers. Their study, which has just been published online in the Astrophysical Journal, will appear in the journals print edition in April.

Most of the planets astronomers have discovered beyond the solar system have not actually been seen; rather, they have been indirectly observed by looking at the influence they exert on stars they orbit. But even with the most advanced telescopes planned by Earths astronomers for use over the next several years, a planet orbiting another star would only appear as a single pixelthat is, a single point of light, with no detail except its brightness and color. By comparison, a simple cellphone camera typically takes pictures with about a million pixels, or one megapixel.

The goal of [our] project was to see how much information you can extract
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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