Exoplanets Ahoy!

Check out the picture on the right.  This is just about the coolest thing I’ve seen in a while. 

That little dot in the upper lefthand corner is a planet orbiting another star.  You got it: astronomers are now capable of photographing planets in solar systems similar to our own.  Up to this point, determined researchers have been able to detect “exoplanets” by using a variety of clever methods; e.g. looking for a subtle periodic wobble in a star, which tells them a relatively big planet is tugging at it.  Based on the period and extent of the wobble, they can deduce something about the mass and orbit of the unseen exoplanet.

This latest discovery involves the star 1RXS J160929.1-210524 (a name that just flows off the tongue).

Now, this isn’t the first time they’ve photographed an exoplanet, but this is the first time they’ve done so for an exoplanet orbiting a star very much like our sun.

So far, astronomers have identified over 300 planets in other solar systems and the number grows all the time.

Check out this entry on exoplanets – if it’s on Wikipedia, you know it’s true!  ;)

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