ASU Nexus for Exoplanet System Science

Using Mountains on Exoplanets to Gain Insight into Life

Detecting mountains the size of Mount Everest and the Himalayan Mountain range would be like detecting a human hair on a billiard ball while the ball is on the Moon, but next generation telescopes may be able to make that type of detection. (Credit: shrimpo1967)

David Kipping, an assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia University, and Moiya McTier, a Columbia graduate student, think we might be able to detect mountains on exoplanets. As crazy as it seems, it might be possible-if we can build telescopes around 70 meters in diameter. We won’t see the mountains directly, but if a planet with mountains is rotating while transiting its star, fluctuations in its light signature as it rotates could point to the existence of mountains, as its area blocking the star would change. Insights like this can help us gain insights into the inner-workings and life of the planet, as a planet that is “alive” geologically is more likely to have alien life on it.

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