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Search For Life

At a Glance: Exploring Alien Atmospheres

Telescopes use science instruments called spectrographs to study starlight passing through a planet's atmosphere. The information converted into spectral lines, tells us about the atmosphere's composition. Webb's spectrographs will look for the telltale signs of water vapor on distant planets. 

Credits

 
Search for Life
 
 
Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach.
 
All images, illustrations, and videos courtesy of NASA except:
 
·       Photo of a hot spring courtesy of the National Park Service/Jim Peaco
·       Photo of crabs at a deep-sea hydrothermal vent courtesy of Alex D. Rogers (University of Oxford)
·       Photo of a Pompeii worm courtesy of University of Delaware, College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment
·       Photo of a ship’s wake courtesy of Andrzej Otrębski
·       Photo of a clown fish courtesy of Wikimedia user Ritiks
·       Photos of a sea turtle and jellyfish courtesy of Wikimedia user Brocken Inaglory
·       Photo of a drinking swallow courtesy of Wikimedia user Sanchezn
·       Photo of elephants courtesy of Derek Keats (Johannesburg, South Africa)
·       Taurus constellation drawing from Firmamentum Sobiescianum sive Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius, courtesy of the United States Naval Observatory
·       Exoplanet illustrations courtesy of ESO
·       Ariane 5 rocket launch image ©2008 ESA – CNES – Arianespace/Photo by Optique Video CSG
·       JWST animation and illustrations courtesy of G. Bacon (STScI)
·       JWST deployment animation courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Northrop Grumman
·       Hubble Space Telescope animations courtesy of ESA/Hubble (M. Kornmesser & L. L. Christensen)
·       Illustration of K2 fields based on image courtesy of ESO/S. Brunier/NASA Kepler Mission/Wendy Stenzel
·       TESS animation courtesy of Chester Beals (MIT Lincoln Laboratory) and George Ricker (MIT)
·       Animation of planetary orbits around Milky Way stars courtesy of ESO/M. Kornmesser
·       Prism animation courtesy of ESO/L. Calçada
·       Spectrum illustration courtesy of M. Lussier (STScI)
·       Artwork depicting water on the surfaces of other worlds courtesy of Dan Durda (Fellow, IAAA)
·       Spectral line illustrations courtesy of A. Feild (STScI) and the European Space Agency
 
 
Written by Tracy Vogel
Designed by Marc Lussier
Music courtesy of Associated Production Music
 
 

Transcript

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 at-a-GLANCE. Exploring Alien Atmospheres. 


Hubble telescope floating in space 


Telescopes use science instruments called spectrographs to study starlight passing through a planet's atmosphere. 


Spectrographs break light into colors like a prism. 


Black planet follows its orbit around a red star, graph of light spectrum from violet to red, graph showing a star's brightness over time 


Gaps show where molecules in the atmosphere have absorbed light. 


The information converted into spectral lines, tells us about the atmosphere's composition. 


Venus, Earth, Mars and spectrograph readings of their atmospheres 


For example, the spectra of Earth, Venus, and Mars show that each planet contains carbon dioxide in its atmosphere 


Key showing what colors on the spectrograph mean. Blue, water; purple, carbon dioxide; orange, ozone. 


But Earth's spectrum shows water and ozone as well. 


Webb's spectrographs will look for the telltale signs of water vapor on distant planets.