Friday, January 18, 2013

Exoplanet atmospheres using only the 1000 most common words in English

Here is my attempt at explaining what I do and how we do it.

Space is big, really big; you can't imagine just how crazy big it is, and empty don't forget empty. Sure there is lots of matter making up stars grouped together in their hundreds of hundreds, but that is nothing next to how much empty space there really is. So imagine what it is like to look at one of these stars and know that there is another world out there filling just a small but important part of that empty space. 
It is these big balls of rock, which grip our attention and light up the world inside our heads.

When you look up at the night sky and gaze at the crazy number of stars you can see, just think; half of those stars have big round balls of rock rushing around them and some of those will have skies of their own.

But how do we find out what their skies are made of and if the air is good or bad?
To look at the air round these big round balls of rock we need to look at the star they are moving around.
We point a big space box at the star and see how the light we see changes as the big ball of rock and air passes between the star and us. The big ball of rock will block some of the light but some will go through the air around it and if you look at the light in all different colors how much light being blocked will change for different parts of the air. This change in how much light we see is only very small but using big space boxes makes it easier, more so if you are looking for water around other worlds as the water in our air gets in the way when we look from the ground.
We can then build up a picture of the air around these strange new worlds from the change in light we see over all colors and see if water is joined by other parts of the air that make the big round balls of rock a nice place to visit, or not as is the case most of the time.

What we do is hard but we are always one small step closer to understanding our world and how we got here.

How much do you think you can write with this thing without it stopping you, are the top 1000 words really that good? Give it a go yourself and find out.

Personally I could have done with the word planet on that list but big ball of rock and sky seemed to work well enough.


The top image is from XKCD #1071

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