Night Vision: Exoplanets

Nick Jarvis

“For then why may not every one of these Stars or Suns, have as great a retinue, as our Sun, of Planets, with their Moons to wait upon them? Nay, there is manifest reason why they should.” 

Christiaan Huygens, Cosmotheoros? (1698)

Planets_everywhere_(artist’s_impression)

This artists’s cartoon view gives an impression of how common planets are around the stars in the Milky Way. The planets, their orbits and their host stars are all vastly magnified compared to their real separations. A six-year search that surveyed millions of stars using the microlensing technique concluded that planets around stars are the rule rather than the exception. The average number of planets per star is greater than one.
Credit:
ESO/M. Kornmesser, from http://www.eso.org/public/usa/videos/eso1204a/

When our science-fiction heroes travel out into space, oftentimes they will leave the solar system to visit other stars beyond the Sun. But once you’ve reached that distant star, then what? Star Wars wouldn’t be very interesting unless those distant stars hosted places like Tatooine and Alderaan; Star Trek wouldn’t be much fun without places like Qo’nos or Vulcan!

And in some ways, our sci-fi has been ahead of the curve: writers and dreamers have been thinking about the possibilities of other solar systems for generations, but it’s only within the last twenty or thirty years that the science of exoplanetary astronomy has experimentally confirmed the existence of planets that orbit other stars.

In this week’s Night Vision, we’ll examine the modern state of exoplanetary astronomy; we’ll look at the various ways our Earth-based astronomers can detect and characterize these strange new worlds, and we’ll look at the broad variety of planets we’ve discovered so far, from lava-drenched worlds with diamond cores, to planets that could be tantalizingly similar to our Earth.

Come join us in the Hansen Dome Theatre for this week’s discussion on exoplanets; and because it’s a live show, this is also a great place to bring all of your other questions about astronomy, stargazing, and anything else you’ve ever wondered about the cosmos!

See you there!

Night Vision is hosted this week by Nick Jarvis on Thursday evening, October 22, and Saturday evening, October 24th, in the Hansen Dome Theatre at 6:45pm. Tickets available online or at the Clark Planetarium ticket desk. Free for members and $2 for everyone else.

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