New type of telescope may detect extraterrestrial life[14 Feb 2013] With a new type of telescope it may be possible to detect signs of extraterrestrial life on planets orbiting other stars than the Sun. Although even the most nearby stars are at enormous distances, biological activity can reveal itself through gases released in the planet atmospheres, which would otherwise not be present - so called biomarker gases. This idea, which has been around since the 1960s, has now been coupled to a new observing strategy, which uses relatively low-cost ground-based flux collector telescopes for high-precision measurements of oxygen in exoplanet atmospheres. [For a press-release in Dutch click here. English click here
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Ignas Snellen is Professor in astronomy at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. On this website you can find information about his research and teaching. Feel free to contact him for further information.
Extrasolar Planets - the question whether there are other worlds like the Earth, and whether such planets may harbor life, forms the basis of one of the most fascinating research topics today. In 1995, the first planet to orbit a star other than the sun was found, and since then hundreds of extrasolar planets have been discovered. Snellen's research focuses mainly on transiting planets. Once per orbit they cross the disk of their host star, which allows for a detailed study of their atmospheres. It is hoped that the techniques developed now can soon be applied to planets like Earth, to establish whether they harbor life.
Snellen's group develops observation and data-reduction techniques for ground-based telescopes, particularly geared to be used for the future extremely large telescopes (ELT). For this they concentrate on optical and near-infrared secondary eclipse photometry and transmission spectroscopy. Most of the time, the telescopes on La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain) and those from the European Southern Observatory (La Silla & Paranal, Chile) are used for this research. The team also develops a new camera-system to find the brightest transting planets in the sky, MASCARA. Look here for news about recent results!