Searching for water in the atmospheres of alien worlds
Published on: 3 February 2015
Hannah Wakeford, an Astrophysics PhD student talks about her research into exoplanets, as part of the Institute of Physics national 3 Minute Wonder competition. The competition, which was won by Hannah in May 2014, tasks physics and physics-related researchers to talk about a unique piece of their research to the public in just three minutes.
Hannah’s research looks for water in the atmospheres of exoplanets, which are planets that orbit a star other than the Sun. When the planet passes in front of the star, part of the light from the star gets blocked out, which is what Hannah measures.
Some of the starlight, however, passes through the planet’s atmosphere before it reaches us. By looking at this light in different wavelengths, or colours, Hannah is able to detect whether or not there is water vapour present.