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Sun Glints

February 8, 2010

Brief glints of light reflected from distant planets may reveal the presence of liquid water or ice.


Glints that hint at water. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

If you look at a lake on a bright day, you’ll see glints of sunlight reflecting off the water. That’s how Drake Deming, senior scientist for exoplanet studies at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center hopes to find liquid or ice on distant planets – which would make them candidates for extraterrestrial life. His team will use NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft to look for the distinctive flashes.

DRAKE DEMING (NASA-Goddard Space Flight Center):
These are called specular reflections; they’re almost exactly the same thing as the glare reflected from the hood of your car as you’re driving in traffic with the sun ahead of you.

A tell-tale sign will be glints that appear at regular intervals, which would indicate a large body of water rotating into view as the planet turns. To calibrate the instruments, his team has been analyzing how the Earth’s sun glints appear from space. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.