“an unprecedented achievement from an Earth-based observatory”

Nasa are celebrating the apparently successful demonstration of a new technique used, with Nasa’s relatively modest 30-year-old, 3-meter-diameter, Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii, to identify water, carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere of exo-planet HD 189733b – a Jupiter-size planet nearly 63 light-years away. Here’s a NASA/JPL-Caltech graphical explanation. And the BBC report. Nature has the technical details. Somewhere, the “Ingenious Mr [Robert] Hooke” is smiling. As he said in the preface to his 1665 publication Micrographia

‘Tis not unlikely, but that there may be yet invented several other helps for the eye, as much exceeding those already found, as those do the bare eye, such as we may perhaps be able to discover living Creatures in the Moon, or other Planets, the figures of the compounding Particles of matter, and the particular Schematisms and Textures of Bodies.

As the BBC report notes

“It’s a pretty interesting discovery,” said Keith Horne, an astrophysicist and exoplanet expert from the University of St Andrews.

“The main impact is this strong emission line that stands out quite dramatically,” he told BBC News.

“You’d be able to detect it on other objects that are farther away [from their parent stars] or are fainter. So far, it’s been just the nearest, transiting ‘hot Jupiters’ that are bright enough to detect this secondary eclipse.”

But more than that, the new research shows that some observations that were once only possible from space can now be done using ground-based telescopes.

That vastly increases the number of instruments – far larger than the 3m telescope used in the Nature work – that could be trained on exoplanet atmospheres.

“Larger telescopes could look at this in more detail, because there’s so many of them. It potentially allows many different teams to participate; previous detections with the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes are great, but there’s only one Hubble and only one Spitzer.”

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  • FitzjamesHorse

    Slugger O’Toole (Notes On Northern Ireland Politics and Culture) it says on the headline..so all of the above is totally irrelevant nonsense.

    I can understand that everyone even Mr Baker needs a hobby. But is there a relevance?

  • Pete Baker

    “But is there a relevance?”

    Not necessarily. Royal Society, Robert Boyle et al, not withstanding.

    And your point is? ;op

  • joeCanuck

    Damnmit, Pete. Don’t allow idiotic attacks any traction. Looking up at the skies is part of N.I.’s culture (like everywhere else). I looked up every clear night as a child, living as I did on a hillside on the outskirts of town overlooking a park.

  • Pete Baker

    Sorry joe.

    My bad.


    If you’re not interested, just move along to the next post.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Baker,
    The message (2) seems a very tenuous link to Politics and Culture.
    Using your priveleged position as a thread starter to indulge a personal interest unconnected to “Politics and Culture” is undermining Slugger O’Tooles reputation as a credible website on the great political issues of the day.
    It is a discourtesy to those of us uninterested in your hobby.
    And please dont call me “Fitzy”.

  • Pete Baker


    You’ll find more discourtesies here.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Baker
    Yes Ive noticed them.
    Still waiting for an explanation as to relevance in terms of “Politics and Culture” in Northern Ireland.
    But I suppose I will die waiting.
    Your insistence on calling me “Fitzy” when I have requested that you dont is below the normal standards of courtesy I expect.

  • joeCanuck


    I think I explained the relevance above.
    Every culture worldwide has been greatly influenced by the skies, possibly starting with the now debunked astrology which has been replaced by astronomy.
    Lighten up and if the skies are clear where you are, go outside, look up and wonder.

  • David Crookes

    Thanks a lot, Pete, and don’t be discouraged. Once I came upon the picture of Fionn’s Window from the Book of Ballymote. Being a public-spirited sort of chap I sent a copy of this important image to the UFO Society of Ireland, but I never got a reply.

    We might see the work that Eamonn Mallie has done over the last week as representing ‘an unprecedented achievement from an earth-based observatory’. And we can all steal enthusiasms from each other. A ‘New Ireland’ in which children grow up knowing nothing about stars, trees, and pond life isn’t worth working for.

  • Pete Baker

    Not to worry, David.

    I’ve had that particular conversation a few times before here.

  • Kevsterino

    Pete, are there any observatories in Northern Ireland large enough to participate in the new research? I do know of one woman from your corner of the planet who is actually quite a “somebody” in the astronomy world.

    Keep looking up!!!

  • Reader

    Kevsterino: Pete, are there any observatories in Northern Ireland large enough to participate in the new research?
    I doubt it – the weather is too bad round here. I spent many winter nights up at the Malone observatory waiting for a gap in the wind/rain/clouds. That was on the occasions when the weather forecast gave us a sporting chance of getting some observations done. The telescopes up at the Armagh observatory were bigger than the one at Malone (Does the Malone observatory still exist?), but there’s no real point in spending a fortune on a really big telescope that you can hardly ever use.

  • David Crookes

    Yes: location is important both for astronomers and for estate agents. Years ago I saw the remains of Ulugh Beg’s observatory in Samarkand. Maybe if we get Markethill to twin with Samarkand we’ll be able to get something going. Twinning with Uzbekistan shouldn’t be a problem. Part of Donegal was recently twinned with Mars!

  • st etienne

    “Slugger O’Tooles reputation as a credible website on the great political issues of the day”

    Last time I looked Slugger covered the power-sharing executive?