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The Exoplanets, beyond the solar system

Throughout the history of cosmology, astrophysics, and astronomy, scientists have considered the existence of planets placed outside our solar system. For many years they tried to find evidence of their presence. But it was not until the last decade of the 20th century that they were able to confirm its existence. Our knowledge about the universe has been progressing since that.

The exoplanets (also known as extrasolar planets) are bodies that orbit around their star. And therefore, they are not considered part of our solar system. Thanks to technological advances, the astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail made an incredible finding. In 1992, they announced the discovery of two planets orbiting in what is now known as PSR B1251+12.

Then, in 1995 the first exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star was identified by the astronomers Didier Queloz and his research advisor Michel Mayor. Their discovery earned them the 2019 Physics Novel Prize. The knowledge and findings of exoplanets have been increasing since that moment.

Currently, there are about 4,000 known exoplanets “confirmed” and more than a thousand to be confirmed. Additionally, the astronomers explain that for every star, there can be a planet; this opens the possibility of finding more.

The constant scientific development has contributed to finding different methods and techniques to identify the planets that are beyond the solar system. Among the ways to detect an exoplanet, these are the most outstanding:

Identification by directly imaging.

The scientists can perceive the physical parameters on the exoplanet surface with this method. It can be possible by the advanced telescopes currently in use, although this method is not used frequently because of the difficulty of sharp images.

The telescopes must use a coronagraph to block the bright of the near star and obtain the dim light of the planets. By this method, at least three planets have been discovered orbiting the star HR8799.

Radial Velocity.

Also called the Doppler wobble. The scientists identify exoplanets by wobbling of their stars; its gravitational attraction causes this movement. At the same time, continuous wobble produces changes in the light spectrum of luminous objects, which can be observed from planet earth by specialized telescopes. According to NASA, this method has contributed to the discovery of 802 planets beyond our solar system.

 

Transit method.

It is the photometric analysis of the celestial objects. When a planet passes through Earth and its host star, it momentarily blocks vision from the light it emits. This “transit” allows scientists to know more about the atmospheric composition of the extrasolar planets because the brightness that star emits absorbs part of it.

According to NASA, NASA’s Kepler mission has identified around 2000-3000 planets beyond our solar system. It has increased the information about the distribution and size of exoplanets.

For more information about other methods to discover extrasolar planets and timeline planets discoveries, visit NASA’s official page.

These methods have allowed scientists to recognize planets with Earth-like characteristics, which has opened the scientific debate about the existence of life on other planets and their possibility to resemble the life forms that we already know. Another valuable contribution is the development of new theories and models concerning the creation and extension of the galaxy. However, there’s still a lot to discover about the planets beyond our solar system.

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About Daphne Osuna

"Writing is more than just putting words into paper. When you write, you benefit from the resources you've gathered since your infancy and deliver a digested product, designed to plant a seed on readers' minds. That seed is creativity, curiosity... The core of what makes us human translated to the audience through the magic of language."