You never know when you’ll need it, but here it is – with the help of the famous Kepler telescope, currently situated in space right outside our own planet, astrophysicists at University of Toronto have now been able to create sequences of weather forecasts for six exoplanets.
By combining previous temperature measurements made by the telescope with the latest ones containing detailed mapping of how the light moves and changes during a day and night on the foreign planets, the scientist team could create what looks like a normal weather report here on earth: “Cloudy for the morning, turning to clear with scorching heat in the afternoon.”
The Kepler telescope was launched in March 2009, with the honorable mission to hunt for habitable, earth-like planets in the Milky Way, our ginormous galaxy. It turns out that the calculations of possible candidates landed on a fully manageable chunk of 40 billion planets, waiting to be explored – by humans and by all means available. The means used by the telescope is a photometer that monitors the brightness of over 145 000 stars.
A disabling event in August 2013 put an end to the initial mission, and so the telescope had to be re-assigned to new ventures. Now it uses its expensive and extensive powers to detect habitable planets around smaller, dimmer red dwarf stars, and the new mission was named K2, “Second Light” in November 2013.
By carefully interpreting the data received from K2, Lisa Esteves, PhD candidate in the department of astronomy & astrophysics at the University of Toronto, could make several conclusions together with her colleagues: “The excess light seen on the two very hot planets can be explained by thermal emission. A likely explanation is that on these two planets, the winds are moving heat towards the evening side, resulting in the excess brightness.”
One might think that it’d be hard enough getting the weather forecasts right on earth already, but stepping it up one notch might have a positive impact on our ability to determine what comes next – rain, or sunshine.