Sunday, March 28, 2010

Exoplanet soup starter

I've been teased by friends telling me that among amateur astronomers, I'm a "star gazer" rather than an astronomer. The distinction is this: if you're at a star gazing/astronomy event and you go to bed by 10:00 pm, you're a star gazer. I think the biggest change to star gazing in centuries is the discovery of planets around other stars, such planets are also called exoplanets. Before these discoveries, we star gazers wondered if there were other planets around the stars we see. Now, we know.

With the discovery of 400 exoplanets, and 70 of these having transiting orbits (where the planet passes in front of the star from our point of view), I'm finding the excitement of new discoveries in this field comparable to the first time I looked at 51 Pegasi and said, "there's a planet around that star."

Every year I try to create a presentation for my astronomy club. So this is my soup starter for a short presentation. I don't know where it will lead me.
(Click the diagram to enlarge it.)
All of the information in the above illustration comes from excellent review in Nature 17 Dec. 2009 by Geoffrey Marcy, a lead discoverer of exoplanet. Marcy's review included a diagram of the exoplanet, which I've borrowed form, but added comparisons of this other solar system to our Earth and Sun.

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