A golden age of exoplanet discovery

Jun 16, 2011

An exciting meeting yesterday, Wednesday 15 June 2011, held at the Institute of Physics (IOP) in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), saw leading experts explain how far the field of exoplanet detection has advanced since the first confirmed detection in the early ‘90s.

Now that more than 550 exoplanets have been detected, and with increasingly frequent detections being announced by global teams working with space- and ground-based telescopes, the speakers explained how we have entered a golden age of discovery.

Chaired by the President of IOP, Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the speakers -- Professor Hugh Jones from the University of Hertfordshire, Dr. Suzanne Aigrain from the University of Oxford, and Dr. Giovanna Tinetti from University College London -- took the audience through the history of exoplanet detection, and explained the techniques being used to maximize our understanding of beyond our solar system.

After Professor Jones’ introduction to the field and Dr. Aigrain’s description of some of the methods used to map out and understand the full population of exoplanets in our galaxy, Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell remarked, “how exciting it is to think that there are probably more exoplanets than there are stars in our night sky.”

The field has progressed from early identification of gas giants, dubbed ‘hot Jupiters’, to slightly smaller but still uninhabitable ‘Neptunes’, and now ‘super Earths’; planets with a mass only five to ten times that of our Earth’s.

As researchers move ever closer to finding Earth-mass planets in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ -- realms of space the correct distance from stars for orbiting planets to be at a temperature that allows the existence of water and, possibly, harbors life -- Dr. Tinetti described the progress being made in techniques used to analyze environments on planets thousands of light-years from Earth.

Topics raised in the question and answer session which concluded the event included the parameters of inquiry used in the attempt to identify life-harboring planets -- from the strength of gravity to the stability of orbits -- and, a bit closer to home, what efforts humankind makes to identify hazardous near-Earth objects, such as asteroids.

The seminar was held hot on the heels of an announcement from CoRoT -- a space telescope operated by the French space agency CNES which speaker Dr. Suzanne Aigrain is involved with -- about the discovery of ten new planets, including one orbiting a star possibly only a few hundred million years old, twin Neptune-sized planets, and a Saturn-like world.

A report from the event is due out in the autumn.

An introductory guide to exoplanets is available online: www.iop.org/publications/iop/2010/page_42551.html

Explore further: How baryon acoustic oscillation reveals the expansion of the universe

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New planets feature young star and twin Neptunes

Jun 15, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- An international team, including Oxford University scientists, has discovered ten new planets. Amongst them is one orbiting a star perhaps only a few tens of million years old, twin Neptune-sized ...

Volunteers to hunt for 'lost planets'

Dec 20, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The public are being asked to help Oxford University astronomers find planets orbiting other stars which may have been 'lost' in the data from over 100,000 stars. Volunteers could even find ...

Mission to extra-solar planets approved

Feb 25, 2011

The European Space Agency has backed a £400 million pound mission to study extra-solar planets, led by UCL (University College London). A key objective of the mission is to look for signs of life in planets which are ...

How to hunt for exoplanets

Mar 02, 2010

A new report launched by the Institute of Physics (IOP) Exoplanets - The search for planets beyond our solar system explains how new technological advances have seen the discovery of more than 400 exoplanets to date, a number ...

Learning from hot Jupiters

Dec 15, 2010

The possibility of discovering a planet that is small, cool, rocky, orbiting a sunlike star and able to host life -- an Earth twin, in other words -- has made the search for planets outside of our solar ...

Recommended for you

The Great Cold Spot in the cosmic microwave background

Sep 19, 2014

The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is the thermal afterglow of the primordial fireball we call the big bang. One of the striking features of the CMB is how remarkably uniform it is. Still, there are some ...

Mystery of rare five-hour space explosion explained

Sep 17, 2014

Next week in St. Petersburg, Russia, scientists on an international team that includes Penn State University astronomers will present a paper that provides a simple explanation for mysterious ultra-long gamma-ray ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1 / 5 (6) Jun 16, 2011
The first exoplanets, discovered in 1991, orbited a pulsar a neutron star . . ."


Congratulations on the report about exoplanets and the above quote.

Earth also formed from iron-rich supernova debris orbiting a pulsar [1].

Still today, most of the Sun's luminosity, and Earth's heat, comes from neutron-repulsion in the Sun's core [1].

1. "Neutron Repulsion", The APEIRON Journal, in press, 19 pages (2011):

http://arxiv.org/...2.1499v1

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo