STATES CHRONICLE – It’s a very frequent occurrence for museums to accidentally stumble upon some old fossils or relics that have been sitting in a basement, in storage, for a few decades, only to discover something that would blow their minds, like a new species or the much-needed evidence for an important theory.
But that’s to be expected, as it’s only in recent times that we’ve gotten the necessary technology to identify such important vestiges. In the past, the relics or fossils would have just been misidentified or most likely lost, so it’s better for them to be lost in archives. But it turns out that the same situation can apply to other sciences as well, such as astronomy.
According to a team of researchers from the University College London, a century-old glass plate shows evidence of exoplanetary system. This would be the earliest known evidence of mankind having clues to the existence of exoplanets in a solar system very similar to our own, something which has not evolved all that much over the tears despite all of the advanced technology we’ve employed.
Before we dive into the story, we need to first clarify a few terms in the field of astronomy. First of all, stellar spectra are recordings of light emitted by far-away stars. Like a rainbow coming from a prism, spectra spread out all the component colors of light, teaching scientists about the chemical composition of the star. It also tells them about the chemistry of the astral bodies through which the light passes on its way to Earth.
Back in the nineteenth century, astronomers developed a system for classifying stars that is still sued today. Even though we’ve advanced from glass plates to digital imaging, we’re still using the same principles to capture and record the stellar spectra. And one such image was taken in 1917 by world-renowned Dutch-American astronomer Adriaan van Maanen of a white dwarf star.
One year ago, Jay Farihi of the University College London asked for the plate in order to look for some data he needed. What he found was truly astonishing. The presence of heavier elements like iron, magnesium, and calcium in the spectra suggested that van Maanen’s star was most likely part of a solar system known as polluted white dwarves.
This means that the star was just like our sun, only in it latter stages of life, and that exoplanets similar to our own surrounded the star at one point. This is a huge discovery for the astronomical community, particularly knowing that we reached it with the help of a century-old piece of glass.
Image source: Wikimedia