- A new technique can be used to study an exoplanet's atmosphere.
- With more sensitive telescopes, Earth-like planets could be probed for atmospheric oxygen, a sign of life.
- Planet Tau Boötis b was one of the first planets discovered beyond the solar system.
To study the atmospheres of planets beyond the solar system, astronomers have had two choices: pick one that flies across the face of its parent star relative to Earth's perspective (an event known as a transit), or wait for a new generation of more sensitive space telescopes that can directly capture the planet's faint light.
Now, there's a third option.
Using a cryogenically-cooled infrared detector on a telescope in Chile, astronomers ferreted out beams of light coming directly from Tau Boötis b, a massive planet about 50 light-years from Earth.
PHOTOS: Exquisite Exoplanetary Art
Fifteen years ago, Tau Boötis b was one of the first worlds discovered beyond the solar system.
Scientists not only learned just how massive Tau Boo is - roughly six times the size of Jupiter - but, more impressively, got a readout of carbon monoxide in its atmosphere.