Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Extrasolar Planets

In the past 200 years, people have asked, "Are there other solar systems?"  The answer came in 1992 when an extrasolar planet was discovered.  Due to the distance of these systems, only planets heavier than Earth have been discovered so far, the lightest being 2.6 times the Earth's mass and the most massive outweighing 8 Jupiters!  Extrasolar planets have been found orbiting around giant stars, white dwarfs, brown dwarfs and even pulsars (information on these objects here and here)!  A few systems have been confirmed two planets, and one system holds 6 candidates.  Naturally, most have been gas giants, but some have been seen very close to their parent stars, the closest being only under .05 AU from the star.  Hundreds of these mysterious bodies have been discovered, with hundreds more waiting to be confirmed.  To assist this search, Kelper (named after Johannes Kepler), a spacecraft launched in 2009, has a sole mission to detect these planets.  Who knows what mysteries lie on bodies beyond our solar system?

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