An international team of scientists and engineers has developed a new camera for hunting exoplanets. For the past 15 years, scientists have tried to get clear exoplanets’ images, but Earth’s atmosphere has made it difficult to use large ground-based telescopes.
The MKID Exoplanet Camera (MEC) uses microwave kinetic inductance detectors (MKID). They enable scientists to image exoplanets around bright stars directly. The detector is the first permanently deployed superconducting camera to operate in optical and near-infrared spectra.
The advantage of MKID lies in its ability to determine each photon’s energy that hits the detector. So scientists determine the brightness of the planet and study its spectrum (brightness as a function of energy). This gives astronomers additional information about the exoplanet’s properties – about its age, mass, and potential atmospheric composition.
Another advantage MKID has over traditional cameras is that they are very fast. These detectors can read data thousands of times per second. So the device additionally clears the image, removing some of the scattered and diffracted starlights.
The ultimate goal of studying exoplanets is to search for evidence of life, and the MEC is an important step along this path, the scientists conclude.