PerspectivePlanetary Science

Probing an Extrasolar Planet

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Science  22 Mar 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6126, pp. 1393-1394
DOI: 10.1126/science.1235078

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With about 3000 known and candidate planets, and the pace of discovery increasing, the era of exoplanets is well into its golden age. Discoveries by the Kepler mission and numerous ground-based surveys have spawned statistical surveys of bulk planet occurrence rates, masses, and sizes, and provide insight into planet formation processes. However, the gold standard for exoplanet characterization—spectra of light that has interacted with a planet's atmosphere—remains elusive. Reliable spectra have been obtained for only a handful of planets, either at low spectral resolution or over narrow wavelength ranges. More numerous broadband photometric observations seldom uniquely identify specific atmospheric constituents, and such data are usually open to multiple interpretations. On page 1398 of this issue, Konopacky et al. (1) report the highest-quality spectrum yet obtained for any extrasolar planet, providing firm constraints on the atmospheric composition of the directly imaged young gas giant planet HR 8799c.