Extra Solar Planets
New Planets Discovered
Extrasolar Planetary Systems
Moon containing life orbiting a giant gas planet 
within the habitable zone of an unknown star

Extra Solar Planets
by H Graem

The first confirmed discovery of extrasolar planets (planets around another star - also called exoplanets) occured in 1992. Radio astronomers Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail announced the discovery of planets around a pulsar. In 1995, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva announced the first definitive detection of an exoplanet orbiting an ordinary main-sequence star (51 Pegasi). This discovery was made at the Observatoire de Haute-Provence and ushered in the modern era of exoplanetary discovery.

Technological advances allowed astronomers to detect exoplanets indirectly by determining their gravitational influence on the motion of their parent stars. The planets are usually discovered by measuring the change in Doppler shift of the star's light, resulting from the star orbiting a common center of mass with a companion planet.

Several extrasolar planets were detected by observing the variation in a star's apparent luminosity as a planet passed or transited in front of it. The occasional transit of Venus across the sun is an example from our own Solar System.

At the end of 2007, a little over 220 exoplanets had been discovered around stars near the sun. Most of them are huge and hot gas planets (similar or larger in mass to Saturn or Jupiter) orbiting very close to their sun.

Given the current early stage in planet searching technology, this preponderance of giant planet discoveries in close solar orbit should not be surprising. These would be the most noticeable planetary bodies given the degree of sensitivity of the available instruments.

As sensitivity increases in the future and new methodologies become common, the average range in planet distance from the parent star should increase and the average observed planet size should decrease. Astronomers have recently discovered that terrestrial planets might form around many, if not most, of the nearby sun-like stars in our galaxy.


Extrasolar Visions 
Artwork by John Whatmough
A Living Moon
Upon an Earth sized rocky moon of HD 28185, safe beneath a nitrogen atmosphere and a strong magnetic field and nurtured by temperate oceans of liquid water, life flourishes. Although mere speculation, the existence of a living moon such as this one is almost guaranteed somewhere in the galaxy.Credit: Copyright © by John Whatmough

John Whatmough's artwork has been used in many publications to depict an artist's concept of the current discoveries of extra solar planets. Extrasolar Visions images have appeared in Nova, Astronomy Magazine, Scientific American, and others. Visit his website here - The Image Portfolio

Related Links:
A NASA artist rendering of a hypothetical gas giant extrasolar planet. Credit and Source: NASA
Other Discoveries



Extrasolar Planets Discovered
Artwork by Walter Myers
Tau Boötes b
The extrasolar planet Tau Boötes b reigns over the airless, baked and battered terrain of a hypothetical moon. Tau Boötes b orbits very close to Tau Boötes, a type F7V star about 50 light years from the Earth. Tau Boötes b is believed to have about four times the mass of the planet Jupiter and orbits around its sun at the astonishing pace of once every 3.3 days.
Credit: Copyright © Walter Myers. All rights reserved.

Visit Walter Myers's website here - Extrasolar Planets Discovered

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