Habitable-zone exoplanet potentially spotted just around the corner in Alpha Centauri using latest telescope technique

Space is about to look a lot clearer, thanks to adaptive optics


Astronomers who devised a technique to capture direct images of nearby potentially habitable exoplanets have found what could be a world orbiting a star a mere 4.3 light years away from Earth in the Alpha Centauri group.

Details of the technique were published in Nature Communications on Wednesday, and it involves adding a secondary telescope mirror to today's ground-based 'scopes. The extra mirror mitigates the effect of Earth's atmosphere scattering incoming infrared light. A filter or mask is also applied to make it easier to pick out light reflected off a planet orbiting a star.

“Earth’s atmosphere distorts the light due to warm pockets of turbulent air that have different optical properties,” Kevin Wagner, first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Arizona, told The Register. “This causes a sort of blurring effect, which a computer keeps track of in real time, and sends signals to the [secondary] mirror to counteract. This is broadly known as adaptive optics.”

Wagner and his colleagues reckon they have improved upon today's methods, and can capture direct images of planets that are up to three times the size Earth located within habitable zones of stars near our Sun. They tested their new direct imaging technique by observing Alpha Centauri, a system made up of three stars codenamed A, B, and C, located 4.37 light-years away, using the Very Large Telescope in Chile, and made a fascinating discovery.

Planet ahoy, or maybe not

The team were surprised to find what looks like a never-before-seen object around Alpha Centauri A, which they have since nicknamed “C1”. Olivier Absil, co-author of the paper and a research professor at the University of Liege, told us the object was missed in previous observations because the detection methods used weren’t sensitive enough.

“Direct imaging observations have never reached such a sensitivity [before], all other direct imaging experiments are limited to Jupiter-type planets," he said. "In the specific case of Alpha Centauri, even indirect methods such as radial velocities, which are generally more sensitive, but do not provide a picture of the planetary system, have not been able to reach a Neptune-size sensitivity for the orbital distance considered here.”

planet

Cancel your summer trip to nearby Proxima b. No chance of life, room service, say boffins

READ MORE

The team is hesitant to boast about its latest discovery, however, and have yet to confirm C1 really is a new exoplanet. “At this stage however, without verification via a second observing campaign, we cannot exclude an instrumental artefact of unknown origin, or even the signature of an asymmetrical dust cloud," Absil said.

Wagner told us the team hopes to perform follow-up observations with the Very Large Telescope to verify C1 is, indeed, a newly found planet. If it is it'll be larger than Neptune and in the so-called habitable zone where liquid water may exist.

The data for C1 was collected over a month; the team captured about five million images and made the seven terabytes worth of data publicly available to scour through.

Astronomers will have more opportunities to directly image new exoplanet candidates like C1 in the future. Adaptive optics is going to be used in the METIS instrument for the Extremely Large Telescope currently under construction.

“Members of our team are also involved in building METIS, which will certainly be able to do the job a bit further down the road," Wagner said. "I hope that we won’t have to wait long and that currently available telescopes will deliver an answer, but it will definitely be much easier with METIS.” ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • These six proposed bipartisan antitrust laws put Big Tech in the cross-hairs – and a House committee just OK'd them

    Well, it's a start

    The US House Judiciary Committee this week approved half a dozen major bipartisan antitrust bills aimed at clamping down on the growing power of Big Tech and its monopolization of some markets.

    The panel, led by Jerry Nadler (D-NY), debated for nearly 30 hours on Wednesday and Thursday to advance the wide-sweeping six-bill package. The proposed laws includes all sorts of measures to prevent companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and others from dominating their sectors of the technology industry.

    There was likely plenty of lobbying and other wrangling going on in back and foreground over the exact wording of the package. For instance, there was a concern by some lawmakers that Microsoft would end up avoiding certain provisions in the proposed acts that would otherwise hit Google and Apple. There was some debate over that, and tweaks were made – such as removing "mobile" from "mobile operating system" in the fine-print – to ensure Redmond couldn't wriggle out.

    Continue reading
  • You won't want that Linux bling if it comes from Pling: Marketplace platform has critical vulnerabilities

    No one wants to be pwned by a drive-by RCE

    A Berlin startup has disclosed a remote-code-execution (RCE) vulnerability and a wormable cross-site-scripting (XSS) flaw in Pling, which is used by various Linux desktop theme marketplaces.

    Positive Security, which found the holes and is not to be confused with Russia’s Positive Technologies, said the bugs are still present in the Pling code and its maintainers have not responded to vulnerability reports.

    Pling presents itself as a marketplace for creative folk to upload Linux desktop themes and graphics, among other things, in the hope of making a few quid from supporters. It comes in two parts: code needed to run your own bling bazaar, and an Electron-based app users can install to manage their themes from a Pling souk. The web code has the XSS in it, and the client has the XSS and an RCE. Pling powers a bunch of sites, from pling.com and store.kde.org to gnome-look.org and xfce-look.org.

    Continue reading
  • Would-be password-killer FIDO Alliance aims to boost uptake with new UX guidelines

    Throws a bone to complex enterprise deployment, too

    The FIDO Alliance, which operates with no smaller mission than to "reduce the world's over-reliance on passwords", has announced the release of new user experience (UX) guidelines aimed at bringing the more technophobic on board.

    Launched back in 2013 as the Fast Identity Online Alliance, the FIDO Alliance aims to do away with passwords altogether through the introduction of standards-compliant "authenticators" including USB security dongles, fingerprint readers, Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) and more.

    While the organisation's standards, which were updated with the launch of FIDO2 in 2018, have enjoyed adoption in the majority of web browsers and with a range of companies, they're still seen as unusual and even inconvenient compared to the good ol' username and password combo – which is where the new UX guidelines come in.

    Continue reading
  • UK's Vodafone network runs trials on standalone 5G in London, Manchester and Cardiff

    These are networks that are not dragged down by LTE core

    Vodafone has launched 5G SA (Standalone) trials in London, Manchester, and Cardiff in its largest test of the technology yet.

    The commercial launch has allowed the carrier to experiment with new ways to commercialise its network, including network slicing – where a portion of network is dedicated to a specific customer for their exclusive use. It will also allow customers to test 5G SA devices on a live, public network.

    Vodafone selected Ericsson's dual-mode 5G core network as the dedicated provider for this trial. It follows trials at Coventry University in 2020, and a separate trial in Spain.

    Continue reading
  • What you need to know about Microsoft Windows 11: It will run Android apps

    The operating system they said shouldn't exist

    Microsoft on Thursday announced Windows 11, or tried to as an uncooperative video stream left many viewers of the virtual event flummoxed by intermittent transmission gaps in the opening minutes.

    The technical issues proved bad enough that Matt Velloso, Technical Advisor to the CEO at Microsoft, suggested trying the YouTube video stream as an alternative to the Microsoft-hosted one.

    But with some of the features already known as a result of a leaked build last week, the impact of the intermittent video dropouts was less than it might have been.

    Continue reading
  • Russia spoofed AIS data to fake British warship's course days before Crimea guns showdown

    Great powers clash while the rest of us sigh and tut at data feed meddling

    Russia was back up to its age-old spoofing of GPS tracks earlier this week before a showdown between British destroyer HMS Defender and coastguard ships near occupied Crimea in the Black Sea.

    Yesterday Defender briefly sailed through Ukrainian waters, triggering the Russian Navy and coastguard into sending patrol boats and anti-shipping aircraft to buzz the British warship in a fruitless effort to divert her away from occupied Crimea's waters.

    Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and has occupied parts of the region, mostly in the Crimean peninsula, ever since. The UK and other NATO allies do not recognise Ukraine as enemy-held territory so Defender was sailing through an ally's waters – and doing so through a published traffic separation scheme (similar to the TSS in the English Channel), as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed this afternoon.*

    Continue reading
  • Lego bricks, upcycled iPhone lenses used in new low-cost, high-res microscope

    Full instructions given away for free, to 'nurture natural curiosity'

    A trio of boffins at the Georg August University Göttingen and Münster University have put together a low-cost yet high-resolution microscope for educational users – using smartphone parts and Lego bricks.

    "An understanding of science is crucial for decision-making and brings many benefits in everyday life, such as problem-solving and creativity," said Timo Betz, professor at the University of Göttingen and co-author of the paper detailing the project. “Yet we find that many people, even politicians, feel excluded or do not have the opportunities to engage in scientific or critical thinking.

    "We wanted to find a way to nurture natural curiosity, help people grasp fundamental principles and see the potential of science."

    Continue reading
  • Romance in 2021: Using creepware to keep tabs on your partner or ex. Aww

    With this app, I thee stalk

    Online stalking appears to be as much a part of modern relationships as lovingly sharing a single spoon and dessert in a dimly lit restaurant or arguing over who should put out the bins.

    That's just one of the conclusions from antivirus merchant Norton's latest look at online trends which found that nearly one in 10 people in the US admit to using stalkerware or creepware to keep tabs on a partner.

    What's more, the threat of cyber snooping works both ways, with those involved in relationships increasingly resigned to the fact that their significant other might be stalking them – either now or in the future.

    Continue reading
  • Report picks holes in the Linux kernel release signing process

    Security procedures need documenting, improving, and mandating - though they're better than they used to be

    A report looking into the security of the Linux kernel's release signing process has highlighted a range of areas for improvement, from failing to mandate the use of hardware security keys for authentication to use of static keys for SSH access.

    The Linux kernel is at the heart of a wealth of modern technology, from embedded gadgets and network equipment all the way up to supercomputers. Its broad deployment makes it a tempting target for ne'er-do-wells, as was made all-too-obvious in 2011 when attackers gained root access to key servers used in its development and distribution.

    In response to that breach, traced back to a Trojan installed on a developer's personal machine which gave the attackers complete control over the affected servers for the 17 days before it was detected, a new release signing process was introduced. The idea: to minimise the trust placed in any given part of the Linux development infrastructure.

    Continue reading
  • British minister claims technology makes maritime cannibalism obsolete

    Even in a shipboard COVID lockdown, chowing down on ailing cabin boys is apparently no longer a thing

    A British government minister has claimed that cannibalism on the high seas should now be a thing of the past, as modern navigation and safety technology have made it very unlikely sailors will find themselves in circumstances where they might want to eat each other.

    This hopeful statement came during a debate in the House of Lords on human rights at sea when Baron Mackenzie of Framwellgate stood to ask a question of Charlotte, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the Conservative government's Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport.

    The debate had begun with Baroness Vere answering questions about the government's policy regarding the many merchant sailors worldwide who found themselves stuck on vessels thousands of miles from home, sometimes without pay or current contracts, due to the effects of the COVID pandemic.

    Continue reading
  • In our digital future, IT is really all about experience

    Time to focus on people, not just SLAs

    Sponsored Experience is everything when it comes to delivering IT-enabled products and services. But it’s no longer about how many deadlines your team smashed, how often you’d exceeded service-level agreements (SLAs), or how many lines of code you’ve spat out.

    Rather it’s about how the services and products you deliver impact the rest of the organisation’s ability to do their jobs, increase productivity, deliver customer satisfaction and co-create value.

    “Experience” may be seen as subjective, even ephemeral, compared to the traditional IT metrics, deadlines and SLAs. But if you want proof of its importance, consider how ITIL® 4, the latest revision of the best practice framework for service management from AXELOS, focuses on improving user experience of digital services and how this enhances productivity right across the organisation.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021