Researchers have found a new approach that could help scientists in sorting planets that are potentially hospitable to life or even hosting life.
The approach would be described in a paper that is set to appear on Friday in the journal Science.
Mark Swain, a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., says the new findings are exciting. He studies atmospheres of exoplanet.
Mass is vital for guessing the bulk density of a planet including rocky, gaseous, predominantly water in some form or a mix.
The radial velocity technique, which searches for the wobble in a star's spectrum produced by an orbiting planet, provides a least mass. The transit method, which looks for the shadow a planet sheds as it surpasses in front of its host star, gives a highest mass.
Researchers would like to make both types of measurements on the same planet. But, this is not possible quite often. The latest method could help making more accurate measurements for transiting planets.
Julien de Wit, graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, was making one of these models when he understood that there might be a method to get mass. This came into his mind when he was writing equations.
Dr. Swain, who observes exoplanet atmospheres, says, "Why nobody saw this before, I don't know. But it's a really good insight, and it's going to help us out a lot".