The Discovery of Exoplanets
Once upon a time, children around the world were taught only about nine celestial bodies Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
All the other plantes were just the imagination of authors of science fiction books or directors of such movies.
But gone are those days; things have changed dramatically and the reign of the nine planets is officially over.
- Pluto, the furthest planet from the sun in our solar system, lost the status of a ‘planet’ and was demoted to ‘dwarf planet’ in 2006.
- Recent astronomical studies have revealed that there are lots of stars in the space that have planets orbiting around them.
Didier Queloz and Michel Mayor
- On 6 October 1995, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva discovered a new planet orbiting a main sequence star, the Sun-like 51 Pegasi.
- As of 6th May 2013, astronomers have discovered about 885 such heavenly bodies in the galaxy.
- These newly discovered plantes, outside our solar system, are known as extra solar planets or exoplanets.
- These extra solar planets being discovered might take some time to believe that there could be extraterrestrial life.
- So, let’s get prepared… we can actually meet species akin to the Na’vi sometime soon as there may be a real ‘Pandora’ just waiting to be discovered by us.
- Most of these exoplanets are much larger than our Earth, but cannot be seen with the naked eye as they are located far, far away from us. However, some smaller planets are now being found hidden in the vast fabric of space.
- Special astronomical aids like telescopes and scientific methods are needed to find them. Exoplanets do not have really catchy names like the old planets that we have in our own solar system.
- They are, instead, named after the star they orbit and that name is followed by a letter of the English alphabet.
- The letter ‘a’ is never used, so the first planet found orbiting a star was assigned the letter ‘b’. With each new discovery, another letter is added.
- The letters are not assigned in the order in which the planets are discovered.
- Many countries have launched various missions to discover more and more such planets. The Canadian Space Agency launched a large-scale astronomical project in 2003 to study planets in transit with their first space telescope.
- COROT is a mission led by the French national space agency, CNES that is capable of detecting and studying new planets orbiting the stars.
- It consists of a 30-centimetre space telescope that closely monitors the changes in a star’s brightness that comes from a planet crossing in front of it.
- This project was launched on 27 December 2006.
Kepler-20f and Kepler-20e
- Two newly discovered planets, Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, are believed to be the smallest exoplanets found as of 2011. They orbit a star that is 1,000 light-years away from us.
- Other planets that have recently introduced themselves to us are OGLE-TR-132b, OGLE-TR-111b, OGLE-TR-111c and OGLE-TR113.
- Nobody knows how many more mysterious members of the solar system are waiting to be discovered and what other secrets of the universe their discovery will unravel!
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