updated - December 18, 2014 Thursday EST
Researchers from the University of Arizona were able to snap images of a planet outside Earth's solar system, which is referred to as an exoplanet.
While the astronomers used an Earth-based telescope, the technology used is the same kind found in a digital camera instead of an infrared detector, according to Planet Quest.
Jared Males, a NASA Sagan Fellow in the department of astronomy and Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, said this discovery brings the astronomers closer to having the ability to take images of Earth-like Planets in space, Futurity reported. Males is also the lead author of the study, which will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.
"This is an important step in the search for exoplanets because imaging in visible light instead of infrared is what we likely have to do if we want to detect planets that might be suitable for harboring life," Males said.
The researchers used a digital camera-type imaging sensor called a charge-coupled device (CCD). The image of the exoplanet was taken at a wavelength that is close to being visible to the human eyes. However, using the CCD makes it possible for the first time to take pictures of planets in visible light with Earth-based telescopes, Planet Quest reported.
"This is exciting for astronomers because it means we now are a small step closer to being able to image planets outside our solar system in visible light," said Laird Close, co-author of the study and professor in the Department of Astronomy.
Close added that all the other pictures of exoplanets close to their stars taken from Earth were infrared images. Infrared images measure the planets' heat, making the technology only capable of being used for gas giants, which are huge, hot planets young enough to still heat. However, infrared images weren't able to capture older planets that have cooled over time, which leaves astronomers the option of using cameras that can find visible light, Futurity reported.
"Our ultimate goal is to be able to image what we call pale blue dots," Close said. "After all, the Earth is blue. And that's where you want to look for other planets, in reflected blue light."
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