The Milky Way is comprised out of more than 200 billion stars already known to humankind. Not every star, however, has planets orbiting it in a way similar to our Solar system. The article titled “Exoplanet Orbit Database. II. Updates to Exoplanets.org” provides information about the number of exoplanets currently discovered, the means of discovering them, and miscellaneous information that was extracted during observations.
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According to Han et al., there are over 1490 confirmed exoplanets currently discovered, with over 3000 of them being exoplanet candidates (827). These planets vary in size, mass, and the nature of the star they orbit. Since 2014, the database has been expanded to include planets surrounding neutron stars in addition to “normal” stars, such as the Sun.
As it stands, the majority of confirmed exoplanets (over 800) were discovered using the Kepler space telescope (Han et al. 827). Earth-based observatories, although participating in the search for other solar systems, are not as efficient due to interference from the atmosphere. Some of the major parameters derived from telescope observations include orbital parameters, transit parameters, orbital fit properties, secondary ellipse depth, stellar properties, stellar magnitudes, and coordinates (Han et al. 831).
The article titled “Measuring the Mass of a Mars-Sized Exoplanet” explains the possibility of measuring its mass using observations from small gravitational tugs from an orbiting planet (Johnson). I think this method allows not only discovering the planet’s mass but also estimate its geological structure. Question: Are there any forces outside of the gravitational pull that could potentially obfuscate these mass estimations?
The second article, titled “5 Ways of Finding a Planet,” was posted by NASA to determine the most efficient ways of discovering planets. According to the report, the most effective ways include measuring radial velocity, transit, gravitational microlensing, direct imaging, and observing minuscule movements (NASA). I believe that astrometry has the potential of discovering planets that are impossible to detect through other means. Question: Why some stars do not form their systems?
The third article, presented by Science News, states that over 100 new exoplanets were discovered in 2018 as a part of NASA’s K2 international project. The researchers used data from Kepler to compile and analyze the data about potential exoplanets and validate some of them while labeling others as false positive (“Scientists Discover”). I think that finding planets is the easy part while proving it is much harder. Question: How many exoplanets are potentially habitable?
The fourth article, written by Elizabeth Howell, provides information about planets outside the Solar system. Namely, she focuses on planets found within a habitable distance from their stars, such as Proxima B of the Alpha Centauri (Howell). I believe that studying potentially habitable worlds should be our prime directive. Question: How long does it take to reach Proxima B at the speed of light?
The fifth article, written by Sarah Lewin, reports the latest findings of Kepler, expanding the number of candidate planets to 4034, out of which 2335 have been confirmed as exoplanets (Lewin). I think that Kepler’s success warrants the launch of similar missions in the future. Question: When will the next telescope mission be launched into space?
The sixth article, written by Mike Wall, reports on the historic discovery of a new planet being formed near a dwarf star PDS 70. The coronagraph photos were made from the VLT telescope in Chile (Wall). I think this monumental discovery serves as hard proof of the existing theories of planetary formation. Question: How many planets spotted by Kepler in the last decade could have been newly formed?
The seventh article, published by Exoplanet Exploration, provides cursory information about exoplanets, Kepler, recent discoveries, and potential projects initiated by NASA (“Exoplanets 101”). I believe there is great potential in discovering new worlds. Question: Is it possible for sentient life to exist in some of these newly discovered worlds?
“Exoplanets 101.” Exoplanet Exploration, Web.
Han, Eunkyu, et al. “Exoplanet Orbit Database. II. Updates to Exoplanets.org.” Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, vol. 126, no. 943, 2014, pp. 827-837.
Howell, Elizabeth. “Exoplanets: Worlds Beyond Our Solar System.” Space.com. 2018, Web.
Johnson, Michelle. “Measuring the Mass of a Mars-Sized Exoplanet.” NASA. 2015, Web.
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Lewin, Sarah. “NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope Finds Hundreds of New Exoplanets, Boosts Total to 4,034.” Space.com. 2017, Web.
NASA. “5 Ways to Find a Planet.” Exoplanet Exploration, Web.
“Scientists Discover Almost 100 New Exoplanets.” Science Daily. 2018, Web.
Wall, Mike. “It’s a Beautiful Baby Exoplanet! Historic Photo Is 1st View of Alien World Being Born.” Space.com. 2018, Web.